APS Leadership and core skills strategy 2012-13

Last updated: 05 May 2014

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The Australian Public Service (APS) plays an essential role in Australian Government administration, assisting government to carry out its responsibilities to the Australian people. Its work touches the lives of all Australians and it is responsible for acting in the public interest, ensuring the integrity of government processes and providing an apolitical perspective on policy and delivery options.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the challenges that the APS must respond to are becoming increasingly complex, fast-moving and integrated. At the same time, the nature of work is changing. The quantity and speed of information is increasing, and technology is providing new ways to deliver services and make government information available to citizens. This is changing the manner in which policy options are analysed and services delivered, and it is increasing the expectations of citizens and government.

As the world changes, the APS must continue to evolve its practices to stay ahead of a changing world. The APS' strength as an institution and its ability to understand the nature of the challenges facing the nation, and respond quickly and effectively is fundamental to the success of our country and our society. To do this, the APS requires effective leaders and a highly capable workforce equipped to meet the challenges of the modern world, the changing nature of work and the increased expectations of citizens.

This strategy was developed to respond to the changing requirements of the APS and enhance leadership development and core skills learning and development1 to position the APS to effectively respond to current and emerging challenges.


The APSC established the Centre for Leadership and Learning in July 2010 to address the leadership and core skills challenges outlined above and identified in Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration. Funding for the implementation of the Centre for Leadership and Learning for a period of five years (major review at three years) was subsequently provided via a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with agencies employing more than 200 staff under the Public Service Act 1999.

One of the key deliverables under the MOU is an annual leadership and core skills development strategy. Initial work during 2010-11 focused on identifying the leadership development requirements across the APS, and in April 2011 the Secretaries Board supported implementation of the APS Leadership Development Strategy (2011). The APSC has now implemented a number of key elements of this strategy, including the pilot Band 2 Talent Development Program and a refreshed approach to Senior Executive Service (SES) orientation. Ongoing work to update and refresh the APSC's suite of SES leadership and management development programs and events and to review and, if necessary, update Executive Level leadership and management development, is also underway.

In 2012, the APSC has validated and refreshed the leadership development needs and priorities, and expanded its focus to include the identification of core skills gaps and opportunities. This work has resulted in the APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012 summarised in this paper.

Approach and scope

Four related development areas have been identified as within the scope of this work:

  • Foundation skills: These are essential workplace skills that are relevant to employees at all levels. These skills underpin leadership capability, core skills and management skills, and they are essential for effective operation in an organisation. Unlike core and management skills, foundation skills are not specific to the public sector, although they are applied differently in different public sector contexts (policy development, delivery, regulation).
  • Core public service skills: These are public sector-specific knowledge and skills that are essential to the public service institution and of relevance to all public servants. Development of these skills would normally occur at the APS-EL levels.
  • Management skills: These skills build on the core public service skills and provide the skills that are needed as public servants move into positions of authority (normally at the EL-SES levels, although some APS staff are in positions of authority). The framework identifies the public sector-specific management skills that support sound decision-making and enable public sector managers to navigate APS systems and processes.
  • Leadership: These are the leadership capabilities that allow public servants to influence others and set the culture of our workplaces. Leadership capability is “the other side of the coin” that complements core and management skills. As acknowledged in the framework, leadership is a practice rather than a position and leaders need to be developed at all levels, although the initial focus is on the SES.

Job family and agency specific skills development are beyond the scope of this strategy. The scope of the strategy is shown visually in Figure 1 below.

Figure showing scope of the APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy. At the top are the management skills that complement leadership capability. Below this are core skills that are essential to an effective public service, and below this are foundation skills that are necessary for effective operation in organisations. Along the right hand side of these three skill groupings is a box representing the leadership capabilities required at all levels across the APS. At the bottom of the image is a box representing skills that are out of scope for this strategy, namely job family or agency-specific skills.

Figure 1: Strategy scope

Development priorities: 2012-13

Based on the consultation, research and government report findings, the APSC has identified a number of potential priorities for the 2012-13 period. Priorities were identified based on the potential impact (consistently identified gap across the service or potential for cultural impact), urgency (cross-service skills required for future success) and importance (capabilities that need to be maintained or enhanced across the service).

Based on these considerations, the proposed priorities identified for the 2012-13 period are outlined below and pictured in Figure 2 below.

This image represents the priority areas for focus by the Centre for Leadership and Learning during 2012-13. For management skills the priorities are people and organsiational development (including performance management), and decision making and judgements in the public sector (including creating public value; financial management; and project, program and risk management). Core public service skills for focus are policy development and implementation; working within and across teams (including dealing with change and working in teams); and applying ethical and legal PS frameworks (including decision making and risk). Priority areas of focus for foundation skills are structuring work and compelling communication. In the leadership area, focuses will be people leadership (including working with diversity); strategic and systems thinking (scanning, discontinuities, etc); leading change (including influencing without authority); political nous; and being a leader (including collaboration). This diagram indicates that agency and job family specific skills are out of scope for this strategy, and that the underpinning contexts for development during 2012-13 are Australian in the Asian Century and productivity and efficiency.

Figure 2: APS Leadership and Core Skills Priorities 2012-13

Core and Foundation skills priorities

A range of skills specific to the public service, as well as foundational ‘employability’ skills have been identified as priorities through our consultation and research. The 2012-13 core and foundation skills priorities are:

Core skills
  • Policy development and implementation. A strong policy capability that translates on the ground into effective service delivery is essential to a public service institution. Particular emphasis has been proposed in improving the connection between policy and implementation.
  • Working within and across teams. Working across teams and across agencies will be a key capability to deliver ‘joined up’ policy and services. The initial focus would be on dealing with change and working in teams, with all aspects identified under working within and across teams addressed in 2012-13.
  • Applying ethical and legal public sector frameworks. Effective public servants require a good understanding of the ethical and legal frameworks that govern their work and guide their decision-making. The initial focus would be on decision-making and risk, with all aspects identified under applying ethical and legal frameworks addressed in 2012-13.
Foundation skills
  • Structuring work. Strengthening skills in workload management, time management and skills such as project management to support more effective delivery of work.
  • Compelling communication. Improving APS communication skills, including tailoring to varied audiences with diverse needs.

Leadership and Management skills priorities

Leadership and management development activities will recognise that managers need to develop both their management skills (effective use of authority) and their leadership skills (using influence to create change).

Management development priorities
  • People and organisational development. Agency consultations and State of the Service survey data have consistently identified people management as an ongoing gap and area for improvement, with managing the development of people, including through performance management, particularly highlighted.
  • Decision-making and judgement in the public sector (including risk management, public value, financial management). Consultation highlighted the importance of building management skills that enable managers to fulfil their role in ensuring the integrity of government processes and providing a dispassionate perspective on policy and service delivery options. Similarly, research and consultation highlighted that public sector managers must have the skills to operate in an environment characterised by doing ‘more with less’2.
Leadership Development priorities

All leadership programs are based on the Knowing | Doing | Being framework identified in the 2011 Strategy.

Areas of focus - Knowing and Doing
  • People leadership: including creating an innovative and engaged culture, facilitating learning and performance, motivating and developing people, leading diversity.
  • Strategic leadership: including thinking globally, scanning the environment, systems thinking, generating options and possibilities, establishing vision and outcomes, government business acumen, decision making and planning.
  • Leading change: including initiating and sustaining change, mobilising systems, brokering solutions and commitment to action, supporting people through change.
  • Political nous: scanning and understanding the power context, thinking and acting politically, building coalitions for change, risk savvy, analysisng stakeholders' issues, concerns, perspectives.
Areas of focus - Being

The Being element of the framework represents the need to develop leadership which—among other things—is agile, resilient, authentic, open to learning and able to read, draw upon and respond to the situation and the perspectives of others.

Development framework

The 2012-13 priorities are contextualised in a broader framework capturing the full set of skills clusters identified by agencies as areas where development effort might be focused (see Table 1).

Development framework skills clusters

Table 1: Development framework skills clusters
Foundation skills Core skills Management skills
Compelling communication
(2012-13 priority)
Applying ethical and legal frameworks (2012-13 priority) Decision-making and judgment in the public sector (2012-13 priority)
Building relationships and engagement Understanding government Working with government
Structuring work (2012-13 priority) Working within and across teams (2012-13 priority) People and organisational development (2012-13 priority)
Analytical thinking Professional public service skills Professional public service skills

The skills identified within each skills cluster are outlined in the section Environmental impact on APS skills from page 18 of this strategy.

Implementation: core and foundation skills development

During the implementation phase, research and consultation will be undertaken to understand the detailed learning requirements and to develop the detailed learning program to support development in each of the priority areas. Depending on specific learning needs, there are a number of ways that this may occur.

Core public service skills

As many agencies are already actively delivering core skills programs, the APSC intends to take a practical approach to implementing this component of the strategy and will leverage existing fit-for-purpose programs where they exist.

To this end, the APSC will work with agencies to define the learning need and programs, and will conduct a gap analysis to identify existing programs that meet all (or part) of the identified learning need.

To provide maximum flexibility for agencies, the APSC will aim to provide a range of delivery options, including providing the learning specification to agencies for in-house tailoring and delivery, identifying quality assured providers, and where appropriate providing some centrally delivered programs (classroom-based or e-learning).

Foundation skills

Two approaches are being considered to support the development of foundation skills. The first is to develop dedicated learning programs to support the development of specific foundation skills. Alternatively, the development of foundation skills may be embedded into core and management learning activities (for example a policy skills program might include elements to develop compelling communications skills in the policy context). The approach taken will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Anticipated timeline

Analysis for core and foundation skills priorities is to be completed early to mid 2013, with progressive intervention roll out in 2013 and 2014.

Implementation: leadership and management development

The implementation of the APS Leadership Development Strategy will continue in 2012-13. Leadership and management development will be considered in parallel, recognising that, while it is possible to identify elements that are characterised as leadership and elements that are characterised as management, effectiveness requires a combination of both.

Underway: SES leadership development implementation

Following from the 2011 strategy process, design, procurement and delivery of leadership development programs targeted at SES leaders is currently underway, including:

  • SES Orientation. A refreshed orientation program, which aligns with the principles in the 2011 APS Leadership Development Strategy, was launched in June 2012. This program includes both management skills building (e.g. decision-making within public service ethical and legal frameworks) and opportunities to enhance leadership capabilities.
  • Band 1, 2, 3 Leadership Programs. A cross-APS design process is currently well advanced, and refreshed programs aligned to the 2011 strategy will be progressively launched from October 2012 through to June 2013.
  • Talent development programs. Currently underway for Band 2 and Band 3, talent programs are an opportunity to provide tailored leadership development to those with the potential to move into more senior roles.

These programs are subject to continuous improvement, and will be amended to meet the needs of the changing APS context and emerging drivers.

Management skills

Analysis of the management skills priorities identified in this strategy will be completed by the end of 2012. Learning interventions will be designed in the first half of 2013. It is anticipated that learning interventions may be integrated with leadership development activities, SES events, or possibly as stand-alone learning programs.


  • 1 Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration (2010)
  • 2 CSIRO (2010 Our Future World, An Analysis of Global Trends, Shocks and Scenarios