A strategy leader reflects on the reward of a career in the public service

By Melissa Coade

March 8, 2022

parliament-house lawn
IP Australia’s Margaret Tregurtha discusses her career. (Image: Adobe/max blain)

IP Australia’s Margaret Tregurtha kick-started her career in the Australian Public Service as a government lawyer, landing jobs that focused on designing the best kind of policy, program, legislative and corporate outcomes.

A slew of department roles working on issues spanning education, science, employment, industry policy, environment, energy and climate change eventually led to an SES general counsel role – the first such role within the Department of Industry, Innovation Science and Resources – where Tregurtha found her stride supporting executive leaders managing risk, and contributing to the strategic governance of the agency.

Speaking to The Mandarin as part of a special series profiling APS women in leadership, the senior IP Australia public servant says if she had her time again, she would find the confidence to overcome self-doubt and seize more opportunities. 

Doubting your abilities over a career will only serve to benefit others who are ready to take chances while you hesitated, she adds. 

“There are so many opportunities in the APS to do work that makes a real difference. 

“If I could go back in time, I would encourage my younger self to step outside my skills comfort zone more often,” Tregurtha says.

“I also suffered from the struggle to balance competing commitments of work and family, like most parents. I learnt that having open and honest conversations upfront with new managers was the best way to set and manage expectations about availability.”

Margaret Tregurtha

Finding the right work-life balance in a demanding job is an art, and another piece of advice Tregurtha says her younger self needed to hear was some acceptance that achieving this balance is an ongoing challenge.

“It’s also important to let yourself off the hook. Not every day will work out as you hoped. 

“I learnt to let go of those days where everything just went haywire and start afresh with the sunrise next morning,” she says. 

A message that she hopes to send to other women in the public service is that she understands the frustration of assumptions that working mothers may not be interested in applying for opportunities because they have too much on their plate. A growing number of public service leaders are aware of how this attitude can be an obstacle for the progression of talented employees, she says.

“Women are still disproportionately responsible for the lion’s share of raising children and the effects flow through our careers,” Tregurtha says.

“As a manager, I try to make sure that I don’t consciously or unconsciously make these assumptions and that we ensure that opportunities are genuinely open to all.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to really impact Australia at the start of 2020, Tregurtha joined IP Australia where she works alongside director general Michael Schwager and deputy Paula Adamson to guide the agency’s direction. Tackling multi-dimensional, challenging issues is now part of her professional wheelhouse and she says collaborating with fantastic leaders under pressure is a career highlight.

“I have worked with people who calmly work their way through the problem, seeking solutions that will meet the needs of the stakeholders, but never forgetting about the impact of these challenges on the staff involved. 

“I really hope that I bring this approach to leadership to my own work as for me it defines what good leadership looks like,” she says. 

A deputy director-general of the policy and corporate division, Tregurtha says she enjoys working toward the positive and forward-looking agenda of the national agency responsible for administering the intellectual property (IP) rights system.

Her role has a broad remit to support the agency to meet its strategic objectives including corporate functions, the innovation and technology group and IP Australia’s policy, data and economic functions.

“We strive to be at the leading edge of government digital service delivery which means looking for new and innovative ways to support both our customers and our workforce. 

“The collaborative approach to the stewardship of the agency makes it a pleasure to work with colleagues to deliver on our vision,” she says.

As a more senior APS leader, Tregurtha also highlights the importance of a strong network of peers – from within and outside her home agency – who she can learn from and defer to (even informally) for advice. The Chief Security Officer forum is one of the formal networks she draws from.

“Most of my day involves meetings across the agency, the broader APS and with stakeholders. In general, these conversations are either about setting direction or making sure that we are staying on track. 

“This could include problem-solving regarding resourcing or stakeholder interactions, consultation, chairing project boards and governance committees and taking any opportunity to model and reinforce our goals for our agency culture,” she says.


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