‘Be hard on the issues and be soft on the people’: public servant offers advice to future APS leaders

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday January 31, 2020

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A public servant in the Department of Health has shared her advice on leadership and best practice in the public service.

In a new podcast from the Australian Public Service Commission, director of aged care compliance at Health Elsy Brammesan says that while “a day in aged care is made up of millions of happy moments”, it’s often the bad moments that get noticed.

Brammesan was born in India but has lived in Australia and worked in aged care for 22 years.

She joined the public service in 2008, and received a Public Service Medal in 2019 for outstanding public service in the protection of the health, welfare and interest of people living in aged care facilities. She currently holds an EL2 role, and manages aged care compliance for five states along the east coast.

Best practice in the APS

Elsy Brammesan

According to Brammesan, best practice in aged care is when the person being served “has control of their lives and decisionmaking”.

“It’s where there is a home-like environment maintained, by which I mean — staff who know their job, staff who respect the people they are caring for, for who they are and what they have done for this country, and also making sure people are living dignified lives without pain,” she said.

But some of her values can be extended to other sectors, too.

“When people’s needs are met, when proper person-centred care is provided, that is the best care,” she said.

Brammesan offered up some advice for people managers in the APS: appreciate everything that each person brings (even the bad things), and know your people and their priorities.

“I don’t like the term ‘people management’ much because you aren’t there to manage people, you are there to work with people and so you’ve got to know people really well,” she said.

However, she argued, staff also absorb the behaviours and actions of their managers. She said managers should always openly discuss how a problem can be solved, as there isn’t always “just one person making a mistake”.

What makes an excellent public service?

To Brammasen, an outstanding public service looks after the welfare of the community. They serve.

“My mantra, which my staff hear all the time and I repeat all the time, ‘be hard on the issues and be soft on the people’,” she said.

“Be hard on the issues and don’t move away from it if someone is doing the wrong thing. Despite whatever the issue is, you have to treat the people well in returning the matter to compliance. I absolutely follow that.”

While one personal skill she values is her ability to plan, Brammesan acknowledged that having a supportive boss helps.

Her message to APS leaders of the future? “Invest in yourself and invest in the people around you.”

“What is working? What can you influence? What is in your control and what can you still deliver? We are very lucky to work in the public service and you can deliver an amazing response.”

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