Public servants make good leaders: Anna Bligh’s lessons

Experience in the bureaucracy teaches budding politicians how to “make the elephant dance”, says Anna Bligh. Her new book Through the Wall encourages more young women to consider a career in parliament.

Anna Bligh believes her background as a public servant was a “huge advantage” in political office, giving her insight into how to make things happen some other ministers lacked.

The former Queensland premier says it struck her quite early in her career “how few people in ministry had ever worked in government”. Even then, many of those who had public sector experience came from a teaching or healthcare background, meaning they knew about service delivery, but not necessarily the grind of central agency policy-making.

“Unless you’ve actually worked in the head office of public service departments and worked with ministers’ offices, prepared legislation, written budget and cabinet submissions, it is actually a bit of a mystery trying to work out how government works and how you can effect change and influence policy and public responses to issues”, she told The Mandarin.

“Many ministers on all sides of the political spectrum have very strong commitment to implementing election commitments and responding to the big issues of the day, but often flounder in understanding how do you take an idea and turn it into a piece of legislation, a new program or a funded new service.”

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.