‘I walk in with ten more facts than the minister, and I survive’

Ministers tend to see departmental heads as their principal advisers — but there’s a whole lot more to it than that, argued Finance’s Jane Halton and NSW DPC’s Blair Comley at the ANZSOG conference. Finding the right skills and leadership style is challenging, and ministers don’t always help.

Ministers don’t always appreciate the range of skill sets required to run a department and tend to choose secretaries based on how well they perform in ministerial briefings, agreed Blair Comley and Jane Halton at last week’s Australia and New Zealand School of Government conference.

Discussing the differences between two leadership styles termed ‘hero’ — the big leader — and ‘host’ — the facilitator and collaborator — head of the of the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet Blair Comley argued that “ministers like heroes”.

While the job of a departmental secretary consists of being “principal policy adviser, a manager of programs, a steward of the department and a steward of the public service … the reality is that greatest exposure of most ministers is seeing the secretary as the principal policy adviser.

“Most politicians are ‘people’ people and they think about trust in individuals and trust in relationships less than institutional trust,” he added.

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  • CM58

    Thank God Comley admitted that he can read (technically) – apparently he can add too! :)