Career highlights: civil service leaders share their proudest moments

By on 14/12/2020 | Updated on 27/01/2022
Leaders share their moments from their career that they are particularly proud of. Credit: Samuel-Elias Nadler/Unsplash

From supporting victims of crime to developing future talent and nurturing authentic leadership – officials share their memorable work moments. Kate Hodge reports

Sometimes in the melee of work, we forget to reflect on everything we achieve. But it’s important to celebrate the wins and there seems no better time, as the end of the year approaches, to reflect.

So we asked civil service leaders around the world to share the proudest moments of their careers so far. Got a sparkle moment you would like to add? Feel free to leave a comment or email us at [email protected]. We are happy for you to share anonymously or be named.

Giving a voice to victims

“I played a role in setting up the first ever group in the justice department to give victims of crime direct input into the development of criminal justice policy. We identified a small group of people affected by crime who we were able to engage in round table sessions, sitting side-by-side with public servants.

“I remember, in particular, listening to a woman who had lost a child as a result of a crime. Her lessons of forgiveness and restorative justice had a powerful impact and identified practical improvements for practitioners.”

Hannah Cameron, deputy commissioner, strategy and policy, Public Service Commission, New Zealand

Authentic leadership

“About two years ago, I represented Israel at the OECD conference on leadership challenges in the public service. Coincidentally, it was on the same day as Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. Representing my country in such a broad and influential forum on this day was a moment of great significance.

“[At the OECD conference] I chose to refer to this day, which is of great personal importance to me, in my own words. I talked about the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of decision makers and how important it is to remember that our choices affect human lives and social processes in our countries. Therefore, we must strengthen the connection between leaders and the public, to witness the changes we design.

“The participants expressed sympathy with my authentic and honest words. Affective leadership depends on the ability of a leader to be true to their values ​and beliefs – I was trying to be this in that moment.”

Dr Iris Nehemia, division head of strategic planning and policy, Office of the Prime Minister, Israel

Developing colleagues

“I take pride and joy in seeing my colleagues grow, develop and do great things. For example, watching colleagues who have newly joined the service become significant contributors with mentorship and empowerment. Or supporting colleagues who are given the responsibility of helming an organisation for the first time so they grow into the role, develop an effective leadership persona, and take the organisation to greater heights.

“As a leader, being able to develop people and enable them to maximise their potential brings me great intrinsic satisfaction, more so than any particular event.”    

Leo Yip, head of the Singapore civil service 

Transforming teams

“An event that was meaningful and resonates in today’s context was delivering a billion-dollar stimulus programme into local government when I worked as deputy secretary at the [since abolished] Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sports. It was special because the team transformed their ways of working to meet the burning economic imperative to get money into communities to build confidence and stimulate the economy. 

“Prior to the programme, the team was not perceived as high-performing and the initial response from them was that the programme couldn’t be done. However, given back the challenge with the advice that the country depended on their action, the team transformed business models and approaches to deliver for Australians.” 

Stephanie Foster, deputy secretary governance, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australia

Public trust

“I would say that my appointment as Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service are the natural highlight of my career as a public officer.

“There is, however, an event that I unfailingly recall with both pride and happiness, and this is when the Eurobarometer survey released in 2019 showed that a very high 65% of the Maltese correspondents said that they trust the public administration.

“This is a very high percentage – 14% higher than the EU average, which in the same survey stood at 51% – and comes close on the heels of five years of public service renewal under my stewardship.”

Mario Cutajar, cabinet secretary and civil service head, Malta

The power of process

“For a civil servant, it’s not events, but processes that matter more. An event is just the culmination of a long, drawn effort.

“I would like to mention two major process interventions. The first was as secretary for industrial development and vice chairman of Sidcul in Uttarakhand, where I could implement the investment policy of the state by ensuring transparency in the management of industrial estates, besides encouraging private sector to establish industrial estates as per clear norms.

“The second was laying down clear norms for both public and corporate sector investments in commercial horticulture and micro irrigation: we moved from assessing individual projects to laying down quantifiable and measureable norms for investments in the entire horticulture value chain – from pre-production to post harvest management, including cold chains.”

Dr Sanjeev Chopra, director, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of AdministratioA, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India

Team works

“In 2012 I was a head of project of pension and labour market reforms in Slovenia, that were enacted in 2013 with major consensus in the Parliament and with social partners.

“In 2018 I was appointed as a chief government negotiator (head of government negotiating team) with the public sector trade unions, who were threatening a general strike of the public sector. We managed to reach an agreement to prevent the strike.

“Both achievements were just partly my personal achievements: both times, it was a result of a great teamwork of dedicated and highly competent civil servants.”

Peter Pogačar, director general, Public Sector Directorate, Ministry of Public Administration, Slovenia

Nurturing future talent

“The privilege of seeing young people I hired in the past, especially young women, starting their careers, advance and prosper. It is particularly gratifying when one of them calls me many years later to solicit advice.”

Jeffrey Schlagenhauf, deputy secretary-general, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

About Kate Hodge

Kate is a journalist and editor, holding roles at both the Guardian and the Financial Times. She specialised in education and combines writing, commissioning and editing with social media and audience engagement. If you have any ideas you would like to pitch, or suggestions to improve the website, feel free to email her on [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *