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The EL2s that are most likely to break through to SES

The Australian Public Service has more than 11,000 in its Executive Level 2 cohort, but fewer than 2% of these will be offered promotions to the Senior Executive Service.

Not every EL2 wants the higher responsibilities that come with joining the SES, but for those who are high performing and aspire to move upwards, the steps to make that leap to SES Band 1 are about to change.

Who makes the cut for the career fast track will depend on a new set of talent assessment tools the Australian Public Service Commission has planned, likely replacing existing department-driven processes.

Some existing requirements and tools will remain, including the APS Framework for High Potential, the ‘leadership capabilities for the most senior APS roles’, APS work level standards for EL2 and SES Band 1, and the APS leadership capabilities 360 tool.

Added to these will be several new tools including a new leadership development guide and conversation guide, along with an assessment of the potential for future SES roles, an assessment of current leadership capability, and an assessment of existing skills and gaps required to perform successfully as an SES Band 1.



The APSC has put development of the new assessments and tools out for tender, and is also seeking a pilot, which will run assessments on 12 current EL2s.

These new assessments will likely be the main vehicles for moving from EL2 to SES Band 1.

1. Potential for future SES roles

This assessment will utilise the existing APS Framework for High Potential. Assessing potential is one of the most difficult elements of talent management to get right, the APSC notes, but also critical in understanding someone’s likely ability to thrive in a more complex and ambiguous environment.

“High potential is the capacity to move into roles of greater complexity, ambiguity and scale and is demonstrated where all three qualities (ability, engagement, aspiration) overlap, when consistent high performance is already taken into account.”

Source: Australian Public Service Commission.

The APSC says cognitive capacity is “the strongest predictor of potential” due to its impact on dealing with complex problems and situations. This includes taking in and processing new information quickly, making connections and seeing patterns, grasping new concepts and applying theory to complex tasks.

Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to manage oneself and work effectively with others. Not just empathy, it requires resilience and self-awareness, and is especially important in ambiguous and contested environments.

Adaptability and learning orientation includes an openness to feedback and an ability to translate learning into behaviour change and action.

The propensity to lead is the degree of comfort with taking charge, holding authority and empowering others, including setting direction, using influence and developing and inspiring others.

Alignment of individual values and behaviours with the culture and values of the APS involves not just the published values and codes, but also demonstrating a commitment to serve the government of the day, being able to work effectively in the broader APS context, and personal maturity and authenticity.

Discretionary effort is the willingness to go above and beyond expectations to achieve a goal.

Environmental fit is dependent on the individual agency’s specific functional, professional and operational requirements.

Motivation is the energy and ambition to succeed. This includes taking risks, committing to a goal and seeing it though, and consistently getting results in a variety of contexts and settings.

Career aspiration is the desire to progress into broader and more complex roles. This includes demonstrating preparedness to step into new or complex assignments in order to learn.

2. Current leadership capability

This assessment will utilise the existing leadership capabilities 360 degree survey, which was developed last year and piloted earlier this year. The survey is based on the ‘leadership capabilities for the most senior APS roles’:

  1. Visionary — strategic and systems thinker, analytical, future oriented, inspirational
  2. Influential — politically astute, gravitas/presence, integrity
  3. Collaborative — authentic, connected, trustworthy, listener
  4. Enabling — maturity, empathetic, astute judgement
  5. Entrepreneurial — creative, curious, bold
  6. Delivers — purposeful, driven, pragmatic

There are also three core leadership attributes that underpin the above capabilities: self-awareness, courage and resilience.



3. Existing skills and gaps for SES

This final assessment will utilise the existing the SES Band 1 Work Level Standards. Getting from A to B will take a lot of work, but anyone even considering this should probably spend some time reading up on the delivery, policy, regulator, and specialist/professional standards as well as the characteristics for all SES Band 1:

  • The focus of interactions, while often across the agency or directed inwardly with staff reporting to the role, extends to broader corporate leadership, and cross-government and external representation.
  • Takes responsibility for performance outcomes for a specific program, initiative, or for quality of advice provided.
  • Takes responsibility for the management and development of all staff in a branch/group.
  • Leads a branch/group in implementing programs, projects and initiatives.
  • Contributes to one or more elements of agency governance.
  • Recommends decisions on performance improvement initiatives and options.
  • Plans and manages budgeted resources.
  • Influential source of advice related to a specific area of knowledge or practice, which will form a key input to agency decision making processes.
  • Primary planning focus assumes an immediate current year but with an understanding of future implications.

Author Bio

The Mandarin

The Mandarin staff journalists.