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10. Appendixes

SES review reference group

Terms of Reference

To contribute to the development by the Australian Public Service Commission of new work level standards and capability requirements for each SES level as required by recommendation 6.2 of Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the reform of Australian Government Administration.

These standards and requirements will have regard to:

  • good practice both within the public and private sectors in Australia and internationally;
  • the suitability of each option to be expanded more broadly to other non-SES classifications in the APS;
  • the Blueprint’s vision for the future for:
    • new work level standards linked to classification structures that ensure fairness through similar remuneration for similar work; and
    • frameworks that establish APS-wide work level standards and articulate the core skills and competencies required for APS roles.

The role of the Reference Group will include:

  • provide feedback on options prepared by the consultant on methodologies for developing work level standards for the SES and a new capability framework for the SES, including how the two concepts might interact as a mutually reinforcing framework;
  • provide feedback on draft work level standards and capability requirements for the SES prepared by the consultant.


Mr Roger Beale AO, Chair

Ms Carmel McGregor, Deputy Chair

Deputy Public Service Commissioner

Australian Public Service Commission

Professor Warwick Anderson AM

Chief Executive Officer

National Health and Medical Research Council

Mr Shane Carmody

Deputy President

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Mr Gary Dunn

Deputy Chief

Executive Officer, People and Operations

Department of Human Services

Mr Martin Hoffman

Deputy Secretary

Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism

Mr Bruce Hunter

Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer

Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

Dr James Johnson


Onshore Energy and Minerals

Geoscience Australia

Mr Simon Lewis PSM

Deputy Secretary, Defence Support

Department of Defence

Ms Renee Leon

Deputy Secretary

Strategic Policy and Coordination Group

Attorney-General’s Department

Mr Ewen McDonald

Deputy Secretary

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

Ms Mary Murnane

Deputy Secretary Department of Health and Ageing

Mr Richard Murray

Executive Director

Policy Coordination and Governance

Department of the Treasury

SES Review 2010 – APS Agency Participation

Agencies 41 Ref Grp 12 Survey 20 Interview 15 Audit 30
Attorney-General’s Department yes yes    
Australian Crime Commission   yes yes  
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service   yes   yes
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC)   yes yes yes
Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry   yes   yes
Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service   yes    
Dept of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy        
Australian Communications Media Authority   yes    
Dept of Defence yes yes   yes
Dept of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations yes     yes
Comcare   yes   yes
Dept of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts

(from 1 November 2010: Dept of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population & Communities)
  yes yes yes
Australian Antarctic Division   yes    
Bureau of Meteorology     yes yes
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority   yes    
Dept of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs yes     yes
Dept of Finance and Deregulation   yes yes yes
Australian Electoral Commission   yes   yes
ComSuper       yes
Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade   yes yes yes
AusAID   yes   yes
Dept of Health and Ageing yes   yes yes
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare   yes yes yes
National Health and Medical Research Council   yes   yes
Therapeutic Goods Administration   yes    
Dept of Human Services (including Centrelink, Child Support Agency, Medicare Australia) yes yes   yes
Dept of Immigration and Citizenship       yes
Dept of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government (from 1 November 2010: Dept of Infrastructure and Transport)     yes yes
Dept of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research        
IP Australia       yes
Dept of the Prime Minister and Cabinet     yes yes
Australian National Audit Office       yes
Australian Public Service Commission yes yes    
Office of National Assessments       yes
Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman       yes
Dept of Resources, Energy and Tourism yes      
Geoscience Australia yes     yes
Dept of the Treasury yes   yes yes
Australian Bureau of Statistics       yes
Australian Competition & Consumer Commission     yes yes
Australian Taxation Office     yes yes
Productivity Commission     yes  
Dept of Veterans’ Affairs yes     yes

History of the SES

Creation of the SES and evolution of its role and functions

The SES was established by the Government in 1984 to:

create new arrangements for senior management, with the dual purpose of ensuring a fully productive relationship with government and enabling senior managers to realise their full potential.37

The Government sought to achieve this by reshaping the then Second Division into a more ‘unified, cohesive senior staffing group with general leadership and management skills which could effectively be assessed and flexibly deployed in accordance with the requirements and priorities of the Service’.38

Under the Public Service Reform Act 1984, the new SES was established to provide for a group of officers who:

  • may undertake higher level policy advice, managerial and professional responsibilities in departments and
  • may be deployed by secretaries within departments and by the then Public Service Board between departments, so as best to promote the efficiency of the APS.

Provision was also made in the legislation for:

  • a guarantee of freedom from political interference in selection, appointment and promotion in the SES
  • an opening up of SES positions to competition on merit from outside the APS
  • the capacity for fixed term SES appointments
  • SES promotions and appointments to be made by the Public Service Board, within certain guidelines and
  • arrangements for the redeployment and retirement of SES officers.

The creation of the SES in 1984 marked the beginning of a period of public sector reform that has led to fundamental changes in the way the APS operates. The reforms to the APS over this period were driven by four key themes:

  • a new management ethos;
  • a new principles based statutory framework
  • the need for new leadership capabilities and
  • a renewed focus on embedding a cohesive senior leadership group.

The establishment of the SES occurred early in a period of intense change for the senior public service characterised by moving through the following phases:

  • an emphasis on devolution or ‘letting the managers manage’ within central specified guidelines
  • a change in focus towards ‘management for results’ and
  • increased responsibility and accountability or ‘making the managers manage’.39

Each of these directions directly affected on the roles and responsibilities of the newly created SES.

Letting the managers manage underpinned the Hawke Government’s desire to reassert political control over policy making, while letting agency heads run their organisations. The reforms progressively delegated and then devolved responsibility for personnel management, policy development and financial management from central agencies to agency heads. The reforms also placed greater emphasis on responsiveness to government, the Parliament and the community.

Managing for results had its genesis in the public sector reforms of the 1980s as increasingly governments focused on improved efficiency and effectiveness and a stronger emphasis on results. Consistent with the increasing focus on managing for results, financial reforms replaced process compliance with performance control. Underpinning these financial reforms were the principles of the devolution of management to agency heads, improved corporate and business planning, increased public accountability, and greater emphasis on the evaluation of effective performance. Managing for results remains a central focus of the SES with the Australian Government’s Budget providing a strong link between agency strategic plans and agency funding.

According to a former Secretary:

The counterpart of devolution to allow the managers to manage were changes to make the managers manage by improving accountability for their performance. In particular, the standard of reporting to parliament was greatly improved…while the quality of Annual Reports was raised and the information was presented in a more accessible form than previously.40

The Public Service Act 1999 (the PS Act), the current legislative framework for the APS, consolidated the functions and roles of the SES. Section 35(2) of the PS Act specifies that the functions of the SES are to:

  • provide a group of APS employees each of whom, within his or her agency, provides professional expertise, policy advice, and/or management at a high level
  • promote co-operation with other agencies and
  • promote, by personal example and other appropriate means, the APS Values and compliance with the Code of Conduct.

The 2005 ‘One APS – One SES’41 statement of expectations released by the former APS Management Advisory Committee reinforced the expectations and the statutory role of the SES. It makes clear the SES should be agile and flexible, collaborative and collegiate, and committed to self-development. The statement highlights that ‘the leadership of any organisation embodies its identity and image’, and recognises that its role is ‘[critical to] ... employee commitment and attracting high calibre young staff’. The Management Advisory Committee statement also recognises that ‘the SES must itself evolve to meet the challenges of the future’.

More recently the Blueprint concluded:

A unified APS-wide leadership group is required to support Secretaries. At present less than 40 per cent of nearly 3,000 SES members ‘definitely see themselves as part of an APS-wide leadership cadre’ rather than as leaders only of their agency.42

The Blueprint made a number of recommendations concerning the strengthening of the APS leadership group, including the creation of an APS leadership group comprising staff at or above the SES Band 3 level, ie. Deputy Secretaries and equivalent. Members of this newly created senior leadership forum – the APS200– are responsible for:

  • leadership roles in their organisations and more widely across the APS
  • supporting the Secretaries Board by undertaking strategic projects and initiatives as cross-portfolio teams and
  • being at the vanguard of cultural change to achieve the innovative, collaborative, open, agile, forward looking and streamlined public service envisioned in the Blueprint.

However, the Blueprint expects that all SES will drive reforms and model appropriate leadership behaviours such as innovation.

Classification of SES roles

Prior to 1984 senior staff in the APS were in the Second Division – part of a four divisional structure. Classification structures were introduced for senior staff by the then Public Service Board in 1926, including the use of the title Assistant Secretary. Classification structures within the Second Division were reviewed in the early 1960s focusing on policy advising and top management responsibilities, rationalising the structure into six levels, and standardising classifications at the Branch, Division and Deputy Secretary roles.

In relation to the Branch, Division and Deputy Secretary structure, the Public Service Board’s 1978 Annual Report states:

During the 1960s the Board’s approach to top structure was developed on the concept of divisions and branches as organisational units formed by grouping of related activities to distribute the top level workload and management responsibility evenly among senior staff. This allowed the adoption of simplified structures in many departments and the development of some common classification structures.

A key element in all departmental structures is the concept of a division. Under the permanent head, division heads are fully responsible for managing the affairs of their divisions and participating in the general managing of the department. Within each division, work to be done is organised into branches. Where the workload at permanent head level is too great for one person to carry, one or more positions of deputy secretary may be introduced. These positions have been intended to operate in a way which does not introduce an additional management level between the permanent head and division heads.43

By the 1980s the Board had modified its approach somewhat.

Recognition of the significance of the division head role was associated in the early 1970s with the approach that there should be no organisational barrier between the permanent head and division heads. Deputy secretaries were seen as alter egos to the permanent head, intended, under delegation to share in the exercise of permanent head responsibilities.

In many cases, however, deputy secretaries have assumed, de facto, the superintendence of defined areas of their department’s responsibilities. While this has interposed, to some extent, an organisational level between the permanent head and division head concerned, the deputy secretary in these circumstances should usually have authority to take matters to finality, and, in reality, stand in the place of the permanent head. The Board’s concept of a deputy secretary is not one of him/her being a ‘super division head’ but, of course, in reality, whether that is so or not will depend on the permanent head’s managerial approach.44

In response to the increasingly heavy workloads of permanent heads, by 1982 all permanents heads had been provided ‘…with an injection of additional senior management capacity…’ through the allocation of at least one position at the deputy secretary level.45

Remuneration arrangements were also rationalised with a single rate of remuneration introduced for each classification level. Work level standards for the new six level structure were issued by the Public Service Board.

In 1989 the six level SES classification structure was amended in a decision of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and reflected legislatively the next year to the three levels currently in use. As part of these changes, the position of Senior Executive (Specialist) was included within the new structure to recognise a demand for SES jobs requiring high level professional/technical qualifications and experience, while having limited management and policy advising responsibilities and the demonstrably different labour market in which they operated. Like the generalist SES stream the SES (Specialist) stream has three classification levels – Band 1, 2 and 3.

Agencies that used initially at least the Senior Executive(Specialist) classification stream included the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Taxation Office – for legal roles, and for roles requiring particular knowledge of tax related matters, including tax law, respectively.

Under the new arrangements, the relevant award specified a minimum and maximum salary for each SES classification level. Secretaries had the discretion to determine an annual salary rate at any amount within the band limits.

APS-wide work level standards for the three level SES classification structure – including the Senior Executive (Specialist) classification levels – were issued by the then Department of Finance in 1990.46

These standards acknowledged the broad range of work value, different organisational roles and individual jobs comprehended by each SES classification level. They also allowed for the qualities or competencies of the occupant to influence placement within these broad bands.

A basic principle underlying classification in the Australian Public Service is that jobs are classified on the basis of the work to be performed in the job rather than the particular qualities of the individual performing it. The within a salary band to be taken with regard to the capabilities of candidates to the extent that they can demonstrably affect the level (in terms of work value criteria) at which the job will be performed.47

The last APS-wide SES work level standards were issued in 1998.

The PS Act made provision for, among other things:

  • the Public Service Minister to make rules about the classification of APS employees under section 23 – the Classification Rules and
  • the identification of SES employees by reference to the Classification Rules – section 34 states that SES employees are those APS employees who are classified as SES employees under the Classification Rules.

The Public Service Classification Rules 2000 (the Classification Rules) are a legislative instrument establishing the classification levels of APS employees, including the SES. One purpose of the Classification Rules is to enable employees and duties to be classified under a common APS-wide classification system.

The three level SES classification structure, including Senior Executive (Specialist) stream, are approved classifications under the Classification Rules.

Under the Classification Rules agency heads must issue work level standards for each approved classification used so as to better reflect the type of work being done in the agency. The move to agency-specific work level standards signaled a move away from APS-wide work level standards, including for the SES. However, agencies have been able to draw on the 1998 standards – they continue to be available for research purposes on the APSC’s website.

Associate Secretaries

Since the 1960s the job title ‘Associate Secretary’ has been used on select occasions to describe jobs formally classified as either a departmental Secretary – previously the First Division of the four divisional structure – or a Deputy Secretary – previously the Second Division. Contemporary Deputy Secretary titles in departments include Executive Director – used in the Department of the Treasury – and Chief Operating Officer – used in the Department of Finance and Deregulation amongst others. None of these titles including the title of ‘Associate Secretary’ have a legislative basis – ie. they are not formally approved classifications.

In 1964-5 the Public Service Board and the Department of the Treasury opposed a request from the Secretary of the Department of Trade for a First Division Associate Secretary position – ie. a second Secretary level position – on the premise that all positions within a department be subject to the permanent head.

In the late 1960s the Board once again opposed a request from the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister for an additional First Division office. It agreed, however, for the Secretary to designate an existing Second Division officer at the Deputy Secretary level – a contemporary SES Band 3 classification – as ‘Associate Secretary’. A higher salary was determined for the officer in recognition of his additional responsibilities as Cabinet Secretary: however, the job continued to be formally classified as a Second Division position.

In the late 1970s the then Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet introduced the title of ‘Under Secretary’ for Second Division officers.

Former secretaries who did not receive fresh appointments retained their rank. Nine were assigned to particular departments with the designation of Associate Secretary; this number included two who had been commissioners of the Public Service Board.48

The use of the title for unattached Secretaries may have been done for the purpose of providing such Secretaries with appropriate status. The Associate Secretary concept was based on the United Kingdom’s Civil Service practice of appointing Second Permanent Secretaries in mega departments and the Cabinet Office. In 1987 Associate Secretaries had responsibility for significant issues and/or elements of a department’s responsibilities: however, the title established an unambiguous command hierarchy from the Secretary to the Associate Secretary.

More recently, Associate Secretary status has been conferred on SES Band 3 roles with significant responsibilities, similar to the original approach adopted by the Department of the Prime Minister in the 1960s. For example, in 1999 the Secretary of the Department of Defence designated as Associate Secretary an SES Band 3 employee responsible for defence procurement. The role subsequently became the Chief Executive Officer of the Defence Materiel Organisation and continues to be classified at the SES Band 3 level.

Classification groups

In 1998 all APS classifications were categorised into eleven work value or Classification Groups. The Classification Groups sought to ensure that staff movements between agencies in the APS that were transfers, prior to the devolved system of pay fixing, remained transfers. The Classification Rules retain the Classification Group concept.

In relation to the SES classifications there are three Groups – Groups 9, 10 and 11 – and each Group also includes a number of non-SES classifications.

  • Group 9 – includes Senior Executive and Senior Executive (Specialist) Band 1 classifications and the non SES classifications of Antarctic Medical Practitioner Level 3, Chief of Division Grade 1, Chief Research Scientist Grade 1, and Medical Officer Class 5
  • Group 10 – includes Senior Executive and Senior Executive (Specialist) Band 2 classifications and the non SES classifications of Chief of Division Grade 2, Chief Research Scientist Grade 2, and Medical Officer Class 6 and
  • Group 11 – includes Senior Executive and Senior Executive (Specialist) Band 3classifications and the non SES classifications of Chief of Division Grade 2 and DAFF Band 4.

These classifications are often referred to as SES-equivalent classifications: however, they are not part of the SES. The retention of SES equivalent classifications as separate APS classifications dates back to the late 1990s and was based on demonstrated agency requirements.

Capability requirements

A major underpinning feature of SES classification arrangements has been the identification of core capabilities required in members of the senior leadership group and their use as part of selection, development and performance assessment.

The first set of five SES core selection criteria, adopted in 1987, were drawn from a list of skills needed for successful performance in SES positions which were identified through developmental work on SES performance appraisal. They were:

  • human relations skills
  • strategic thinking
  • conceptual, analytical and creative skills
  • adaptability/flexibility and
  • achievement orientation.

An APSC review of the core selection criteria resulted in anew set of five selection criteria being agreed and put in place from 1 January 1991. The review, which included surveying the SES group and agency heads, identified ten key areas. This was regarded as too many, resulting in the key elements of the ten areas being extracted and incorporated into a new set of five criteria:

  • corporate management skills
  • representation and interpersonal skills
  • leadership
  • conceptual and analytical skills and
  • judgment.

Following the introduction of the Senior Executive (Specialist) classifications in 1990, three core criteria for these roles were identified. These criteria – communication skills, judgment, and conceptual, analytical and strategic skills – incorporated elements of the standard SES core selection criteria, while recognizing the limited management and policy advising responsibilities, and could be supplemented by additional job specific criteria to reflect the particular professional/technical expertise and experience relevant to the role.

In 1998-99, work undertaken by the APSC resulted in the establishment of the Senior Executive Leadership Capability Framework (SELCF), which is still current. The five key elements of the Framework below were adopted as a new set of SES core selection criteria for all SES positions, including Senior Executive (Specialist) positions:

  • shapes strategic thinking
  • achieves results
  • exemplifies personal drive and integrity
  • cultivates productive working relationships and
  • communicates with influence.

These capabilities were reviewed in 2001 and 2004 in consultation with agencies and confirmed as accurately identifying the capabilities required of SES employees. Application of the core criteria to all SES selections was introduced through Secretaries’ agreement. The criteria can be complemented by up to two agency or role specific criteria. More generally, the criteria have also been used as a framework for development programs, assessment of development needs for the SES and feeder groups and 360 degree feedback processes. The framework is widely used within agencies as a basis for leadership development activities.

In 2004, the APSC released its work on an Integrated Leadership System which expands on the SELCF to give a broader framework for executive and senior executive development. Unlike the SELCF, the ILS distinguishes the capability requirements at each level of the SES. The ILS provides capability descriptions and desired behaviours as tools for agencies and individuals to use in their leadership development and had been used at both the service-wide level and in a number of agencies to inform the planning and implementation of leadership growth strategies.

In the census of the SES conducted by the APSC in August 2009, employees were asked to consider the relevance of the executive leadership framework to the work they were currently doing and to the work they anticipated doing in five years. They reaffirmed its relevance and agreed that all five capabilities are important for today’s SES, and were likely to be required in five years’ time. SES employees strongly agreed that the need for two capabilities – strategic thinking and cultivate productive relationships – would increase markedly in five years.49

The Integrated Leadership System is not a set of work level standards. It focuses on the skills and behaviours required at each of the three SES levels. In relation to leadership capabilities, the Blueprint states:

Consultations also identified a need to improve senior leadership and management more broadly across the APS. In the State of the Service Report, employees identified several gaps in the performance and capability of their senior leaders. People management skills, the capacity to steer and implement change and the capacity to think strategically were the top three capability gaps identified within agencies for the key leadership groups – the SES and SES feeder group.50

The Blueprint concludes that the APS needs to place a stronger emphasis on management of performance as a key leadership skill.

Assessing performance

The managing for results ethos gave the SES clear responsibility for their agency’s performance and, consistent with this, mechanisms for measuring and assessing SES performance also evolved.

A key focus of the Government’s intentions in the 1984 reforms was the establishment of an appraisal scheme for the SES, on the basis that department heads and the Public Service Board would only be able to take a more active part in the placement and development of senior staff if reliable information about their performance, qualifications, experience and abilities was available. The Board developed an approach to appraisal in conjunction with Secretaries and coordinated the introduction of pilot schemes. The Management Advisory Board developed an agreed model for service-wide implementation to be put in place by agencies, with the APSC providing advice and support. With the introduction of performance based pay for the SES in 1990, performance assessment became a more entrenched feature across the APS.

In 1996 the new Government released a discussion paper, Towards a Best Practice Australian Public Service, outlining the cultural and structural reforms it saw as necessary for an effective and modern public service.51 The discussion paper raised the possibility of explicit written employment agreements and the use of annual performance agreements as dynamic tools to ensure that the intention of government reforms to the public service framework were actually put into practice.

The shift in focus from productivity improvements at the APS-wide level to the agency level from 1997 onwards resulted in considerable variations in both the scale and detailed nature of SES performance reward and appraisal arrangements within and between agencies.

The Blueprint recommends that the APSC develop a strengthened performance framework that supports all employees, including SES employees, in identifying strengths and areas for improvement and promotes constructive feedback from relevant sources, for example, from supervisors, peers, subordinates and stakeholders as appropriate to the nature of the role.

Setting SES remuneration

Until the early 1990s, all APS employees were covered

by APS-wide industrial agreements and awards. During this period and up to 1997 the terms and conditions of SES employees derived from:

  • the APS Enterprise Agreement supported by various section 82D determinations under the 1922 PS Act and the Australian Public Service, Senior Executive Service (Salaries and Specific Conditions) Award 1995 and
  • other provisions of the 1922 PS Act that specifically applied to SES employees.

In the early 1990s the then Government’s enterprise and workplace bargaining policies were applied to the APS, and for the first time and within limits, departments and agencies were able to negotiate changes to pay and some conditions to meet agency specific circumstances. This was the beginning of the move away from centralised collective bargaining and uniform pay rates for each classification which had applied since the creation of the APS.

The last APS-wide industrial agreement expired in October 1996 – Continuous Improvement in the APS Enterprise Agreement.

Since 1998 government policy – as it applies to workplace relations arrangements in Australian Government employment including the APS – has been set out in successive bargaining frameworks. 52 Agency heads are responsible for setting actual pay rates consistent with the bargaining framework and the Government’s workplace relations policy. A key tenet has been that improvements in pay and conditions must be linked to improvements in productivity.

The supporting guidance to the current bargaining framework53 advises that the terms and conditions for SES employees and their equivalents should be reflected in either:

  • determinations
  • individual common law arrangements or
  • where a majority of SES officers in an agency choose, an enterprise agreement.

As at 31 December 2009:

  • 2,287 SES employees were covered by individual arrangements – 820 Australian Workplace Agreements, 236 common law contracts, and 1,231 section 24(1) determinations
  • 84 by collective 24(1) determinations
  • 3 on a collective agreement and
  • 5 on ‘Other’.54

SES remuneration outcomes

The devolution of responsibility for setting SES pay and employment conditions to agency heads in 1998 coincided with the progressive move from collective to individual bargaining for SES employees. Under the devolved bargaining framework there are no APS-wide SES pay rates or employment conditions. Some data on SES remuneration is available from the APS Remuneration Surveys.

The 2009 APS SES Remuneration Survey is based on the remuneration data of 2,284 SES employees. The distribution is based on individual SES employee’s reported salary.

Table C.1 – 2009 SES Remuneration outcomes – total remuneration package
Classification Number of individuals Quartile 1 Median Quartile 3
SES Band 1 1,690 $193,020 $203,136 $213,509
SES Band 2 483 $241,339 $254,222 $266,457
SES Band 3 111 $312,103 $325,125 $343,225

Source: 2009 APS Remuneration Survey


  • (a)Total remuneration package is base salary plus the value of any benefits such as superannuation and motor vehicles, plus FBT on all benefit items. It does not include any bonus payments.
  • (b)Quartile 1 is the midpoint in the lower half of the sample. That is, the first quartile is the score where 25 per cent of cases fall below and 75 per cent of cases fall above.
  • (c)The median is the midpoint in a range of figures. It is calculated by sorting all values into ascending order then locating the value where 50 per cent of the scores fall above and 50 per cent fall below. The midpoint is calculated by summing the minimum and maximum values of a full range of figures and dividing this value by two.
  • (d)Quartile 3 is the midpoint in the upper half of the sample. That is, the third quartile is the score where 75 per cent of cases fall below and 25 per cent of cases fall above.

Comparisons with benchmarks

Successive APS remuneration surveys have benchmarked SES outcomes against equivalent jobs in the State and Territory public services and in the private sector.

In 2009 SES remuneration outcomes continued to be above those of the combined State and Territory public sectors. The APS median for SES Band 1 was approximately 17 per cent above the combined public sector midpoint and, for SES Bands 2 and 3, 16 per cent and 13 per cent higher respectively.

The SES Band 1 median total remuneration package has been positioned above the relevant combined public sector midpoint since at least 1999, the SES Band 2 from 2000, and the SES Band 3 from 2004.

In relation to the private sector, in 2009 the SES Band 1 and Band 2 total remuneration packages were competitive against the 25th percentile or Quartile 1 benchmark – ie. the bottom quarter of the private sector market – but all SES medians continue to be below the private sector median benchmark.

Table C.2 – 2009 total remuneration package benchmarks
Classification APS State and territory

public services
Private sector
Median Median(a) 25th percentile Median
$ $ per cent $ per cent $ per cent
SES Band 1 203,136 173,733 86 180,075 89 217,743 107
SES Band 2 254,222 219,231 86 257,804 101 317,534 125
SES Band 3 325,1254 288,929 89 404,576 124 485,043 149


  • (a) Mid-point total remuneration package of equivalent positions in the combined State and Territory public services and percentage of the APS median total remuneration package

Source: Mercer Consulting 2009 Broader Market Comparison – APS SES and Non-SES

Chart C.1: Median SES total remuneration package comparison with private sector medians

Traditionally the remuneration outcomes for most APS classifications have been around the 25th percentile as confirmed by successive APS remuneration surveys. However, the SES Band 3 classification level is an exception. It has and continues to be remunerated well below the private sector 25th percentile and, below the Secretary level, it is at the SES Band 3 classification that the gap between the private sector and the APS is the widest.

By comparison the SES Band 1 median total remuneration package positioning has improved. In 2000 it was around the private sector 25th percentile but is now 11 per cent above this and 7 per cent below the private sector median.

In the ten years since 2000 overall SES remuneration movement has exceeded the general market. SES Band 1 remuneration has increased by 64 per cent overall which is 20 per cent higher than the general market, SES Band 2 by 71 per cent which is 25 per cent higher than the general market, and SES Band 3 by 81 per cent which is 31 per cent more than the general market.

SES remuneration movements may reflect the changing focus of agency executive remuneration strategies.

According to the 2009 APS Remuneration Survey, 74 per cent of agencies had a formal SES remuneration strategy which was used as a basis for pay decisions. A significant majority of agencies reported benchmarking against the survey and/or selected APS agencies at the median, and around half of the agencies surveyed regarded private sector organisations to be key competitors for the attraction and retention of SES talent.

Greater responsiveness to private sector pay settings may also have been influenced by the increasing number of lateral recruits into the SES – these have increased from 38.2 per cent of all engagements in 2000 to 54 per cent in 2009.

The SES cadre is also a highly skilled workforce. Most ongoing SES employees have tertiary qualifications – 86.2 per cent of ongoing SES employees as at 30 June 2010. Postgraduate qualifications are also becoming more common – 43.1 per cent as at 30 June 2010. Approximately 56 per cent of ongoing non SES employees also have tertiary qualifications. The trend towards higher levels of graduate qualifications reflects the shift to increasingly skilled work in the APS.

Between 1996 and 2009 the maximum remuneration for SES employees increased at almost double the rate of non SES employees. The maximum remuneration for SES Band 1 and 2 employees increased by 122 per cent and for SES Band 3 employees by 165 per cent. By comparison the maximum remuneration for non SES employees increased by 66 per cent for APS1-6 employees and 76 per cent and 82 per cent for Executive Level 1 and 2 employees respectively.

Chart C.2: APS percentage pay increases 1996-2009

Source: Mercer 2009 APS Remuneration Survey

Note. Based on 5th and 95th percentiles

The Remuneration Tribunal has expressed concerns that growth in SES remuneration constrains the Tribunal’s capacity to set what it considers to be appropriate remuneration for office holders:

The Tribunal has commented frequently on the significant movements in remuneration, over a sustained period, of Senior Executive Service (SES) employees in the Australian Public Service;they have outstripped, by a considerable margin, adjustments determined by Tribunal.55

In its 2010 report – Executive Remuneration in Australia – the Productivity Commission found that the average remuneration of executives in ASX100 companies grew in real terms at an average annual rate of around six to seven per cent between 1993 and 2009. This equates to an increase of 170 210 per cent over the period, or an increase from 17 times average earnings in 1993 to 42 times in 2009. Executive pay grew significantly more strongly in the 1990s, with slower (but still positive) growth from 2000-07.

The Productivity Commission also found that there is a strong positive relationship between the remuneration of executives and the size of the companies that employ them, that the size and structure of executive remuneration packages vary across market sectors and that pay has grown more strongly for executives with more complex roles.

Under the devolved wage setting arrangements, agency heads are able to pay differentially between and within SES classification levels for job weight, performance and market factors.

Between 1996 – when the last APS-wide industrial agreement expired – and 2009 the gap between the minimum and maximum pay points in SES salary ranges has significantly increased for each SES classification level. Dispersion of SES pay has mirrored similar developments in the broader labour market and has helped to preserve the capacity of the APS to attract highly capable individuals, including specialists.

Chart C.3: SES pay dispersion 1996 to 2009 - gap between the minimum and maximum salaries

Source: Continuous Improvement in the APS and APS remuneration surveys

Changes in control mechanisms

APS resource control frameworks including those governing SES employees historically focused on establishment (ie. the number of positions), staffing, and budgets.

From the late 1950s until 1971 the central mechanism for controlling APS staff numbers was establishment – the authority over the creation, salary classification and abolition of ‘offices’ (positions) against which staff were employed.

The Public Service Board – in its role as the central personnel authority for the APS – was responsible for making recommendations on the creation of permanent positions to the Governor-General in Council and for determining temporary or exempt positions, and paid particular attention to agency top structures and Second Division positions. Establishment control was exercised primarily through a case by case examination by the Public Service Board of departmental proposals for the creation and abolition of Second Division positions.

From 1971 onwards staff ceilings complemented establishment in controlling the number of APS staff. Between 1971 and 1984 some form of staff ceiling applied almost continuously and staff ceilings became the primary control mechanism. Staff ceilings took the form of:

  • a limit on growth over a specified period – usually a financial year or
  • a requirement to reduce staff to a target number or by a certain percentage – usually by 30 June in a specified year; or
  • an absolute limit on staff numbers.

Until 1984 controls over staff numbers were administered by the Public Service Board. In its submission to the Review of Commonwealth Administration the Public Service Board stated:

Staff ceilings are demonstrably effective as a way of controlling the absolute size of departments and authorities but their administration is not without difficulties. The Board has from time to time sought the agreement of Government to modifications in ceiling control arrangements. Changes have been directed towards achieving sensible working arrangements to avoid ceilings having unintended and unwanted effects.56

The present-day cap on SES numbers has been administered by the APSC since April 2010. It sets an absolute limit on the number of SES employees that an agency may employ at any one time.

Controls over average staffing levels have also been used. Compared with staff ceilings, average staffing levels provided agencies with greater flexibility to meet seasonal or other peak staffing needs. Under an average staffing level approach an end of year ceiling is set but monthly staffing levels can vary in accordance with changing workloads.

The average staffing level concept was introduced in 1979-80 for selected agencies and was integrated into the financial budgeting process as part of the Government’s APS reforms, from 1984 onwards. Responsibility for advice to the Government on staff numbers also transferred from the Board to the then Department of Finance, and salary profile controls and limits on total numbers of staff determined by the Minister for Finance replaced establishment and staff ceilings. The logic of these changes was that it would ensure that the same priorities would be applied to the financial and staffing resources necessary to ensure the government’s objectives could be delivered.

For budget funded agencies the Department of Finance monitored:

  • the number of continuing positions to be staffed at each SES classification level and
  • the total SES salary budget.

The Department of Finance Annual Report 1983-84 stated:

  • profile and their bands are not used to control staff. They do, however, have a range of objectives, such as:
    • an aid to improve estimation of the salaries appropriations
    • the encouragement of the development of systems in departments reflecting the integration of financial and staffing considerations; that is, ensuring that officers with responsibility for the personnel, finance and program functions communicate
    • assisting in monitoring of expenditure throughout the year
    • identifying changes to a department’s structure involving increased cost commitments and
    • discouraging ‘classification creep’.57

The Department of Finance had responsibility for approving SES funding and position profiles within agencies until the early 1990s.

The Public Service Commissioner’s powers and the SES

An essential element in the 1984 concept of the SES was the more centralised management and development of the senior leadership group. The then Public Service Board was given responsibility for approving the selection, redeployment and retirement of SES officers and it was to take a greater role in their training and development, facilitation of mobility and encouragement of more regular performance appraisal.

Under the 1984 Act responsibilities for the management of the SES was shared between the Board and secretaries of departments to ensure that service-wide needs, as well as the immediate needs of departments, were taken into account in staffing the SES. The Public Service Board (and later the APSC) had the statutory responsibility of making all SES appointments and promotions on recommendation of secretaries.

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Public Service Bill 1999 stated:

The essential characteristics of SES employment, as established by the Reform Act in 1984, have remained in place. The changes effected by the Reform Act were directed toward the establishment of a more unified and cohesive group of senior executive staff to undertake higher-level policy advice and managerial and professional responsibilities in APS agencies. The amendments also emphasised the nature of the SES as an APS-wide management resource with provision for its members to be deployed in and between agencies and for a greater degree of central management, leadership and involvement in the selection, development and placement of senior staff.

Under the 1999 PS Act the Public Service Commissioner’s role in selection continues to focus on ensuring appropriate, merit-based processes are followed – with a representative of the Commissioner to be part of all SES selection panels. The Public Service Commissioner can only decline to approve Secretaries’ recommendations where there is a process inadequacy.

The Public Service Commissioner was also given the role of agreeing to financial benefits to be offered as an incentive to retire (s. 37 of the Act) and in certifying that termination of SES employees was appropriate.

Under section 36 of the PS Act the Public Service Commissioner must issue directions in writing about employment matters relating to SES employees, including engagement, promotion, redeployment, mobility, and termination. The Commissioner’s Directions are disallowable non-legislative instruments for the purposes of section 46B of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.

SES timeline


  • The beginning of a period of intense change for senior public servants as responsibility for personnel management, policy development and financial management are progressively devolved from central agencies to agency heads.
  • The SES is established to ensure inter alia a fully productive relationship between the leadership cadre and government and a focus on implementation and results.
  • Staff ceilings are replaced by ‘average staffing levels’ and responsibility for staffing numbers transfers from the Public Service Board to the Department of Finance.
  • The Financial Management Improvement Program emphasises a shift away from compliance towards performance control (including program budgeting which is phased in during the mid-1980s).


  • The SES core selection criteria are introduced.
  • Secretaries displaced by the machinery of government changes are called Associate Secretary.


  • The six level SES classification structure is rationalised into the contemporary three level structure and a Specialist stream introduced. Draft SES work level standards are issued by the Department of Finance.
  • The Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration report – Development of Senior Executive Service – is released.


  • Performance pay is introduced for SES employees.
  • Workplace agreement allows for productivity reforms and agency-level bargaining.


  • Agency heads become responsible for agreement-making with employees and, for the first time, can enter into collective or individual agreements with their employees.
  • Package of new financial management legislation comes into effect – under the Financial Management and Accountability Act and Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997.


  • The Public Service Act 1999 consolidates the roles and functions of the SES.
  • The APSC launches the Senior Executive Leadership Capability Framework.


  • The APSC launches the Integrated Leadership System.


  • The One APS – One SES statement on the role of the SES is released by the APS Management Advisory Committee.


  • The SES celebrates its 25th anniversary. A census of SES employees predicts two capabilities – strategic thinking and cultivate productive relationships – will be critical in the next five years.
  • The Prime Minister establishes an Advisory Group to review Australian Government administration and develop a blueprint for reform.


  • The Government endorses the Reform Advisory Group report – Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration – that recommends interconnected ways for the public service to meet future challenges.
  • A key Blueprint reform aimed at creating a stronger one APS transfers responsibility for Australian Government employment workplace relations, including remuneration and classification policy, from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to the APSC.

APS Senior Executive Service Work Level Standards

The following Work Level Standards (WLS) have been developed as a basis for determining classification of Senior Executive Service (SES) roles within the APS. They are intended to provide a broad framework which will apply to all SES roles across the Service. Definitions should be regarded, in this context, as general in nature and will require some level of interpretation depending upon specific role circumstances.

The SES provides leadership at both agency and whole-of-APS levels. All SES must demonstrate behaviours and actions that model and promote the APS Values and Code of Conduct. Similarly, the SES represents the APS and government externally to stakeholders. All SES roles are characterised by a high level of accountability for outcomes. The Integrated Leadership System (ILS) identifies the skills and behaviours required at each of the three SES levels.

These WLS are structured in such a way as to provide a degree of differentiation between the levels of SES roles, i.e. at SES Bands 1, 2 and 3, including in those dimensions where the degree of differentiation may not be obvious. For this reason, the WLS are intended to be viewed in their entirety for purposes of making a classification determination. To assist this process, particular distinguishing characteristics have been identified at each SES level which seek to capture the fundamental differences.

The diversity of roles which comprise the SES structure is significant. SES roles, at Bands 1 and 2 in particular, may include the direction of program or project-based delivery functions, development or implementation of public policy, development and implementation of compliance and enforcement programs, or the provision of expertise which ensures the integrity of decision making and planning processes of government. Typically, although any single SES role may incorporate many of these elements, the role may have been established on the basis of a more significant contribution in one of these directions. Material contained in the Bands 1 and 2 WLS often logically relates more strongly to one of four elements, and it is useful to consider where a given role has a stronger fit with one of these four contribution elements. In the first instance, when considering a specific SES role at these levels, it may be useful to identify this natural alignment, in order that most value can be gained from the content of the WLS themselves, and interpretation of descriptors. Subsequent consideration of secondary contributions may then provide useful verification of the initial interpretations.

Delivery Public Policy Regulatory Professional / Specialist

The most significant contribution of roles is outcome delivery and/or effective resource management. This may include development of delivery responses for policy objectives. Roles are accountable for a measurable impact on the agency or APS as a whole (eg, achievement of objectives through the management of financial, human and physical resources). This may be directed to an ongoing delivery program, integration of multiple programs for delivery or to a finite government initiative.

The most significant contribution of roles relates to the provision of policy advice, reflecting research and analysis of financial and other implications and stakeholder views obtained through consultations, and articulation of policy in policy statements, regulatory or financial measures and legislation.

The most significant contribution of roles relates to information gathering and risk assessment, and the design and implementation of compliance and enforcement programs within a governance framework.

The most significant contribution of roles is the provision of technical, professional, specialist, or strategic advice. This advice has a primary influence on adopted strategies, plans and targets and outcomes in terms of effectiveness or efficiency.

APS Work Level Standard SES Band 1

Leadership Capabilities Stakeholder Management Job Context & Environment

Roles at SES 1 are usually expected to perform an important leadership role in the control of an organisational unit and are responsible for the achievement of results, including through innovation and managing risk, in line with corporate or professional goals.

Roles develop the strategic direction for the organisational unit,ensuring elements integrate to support higher level organisational objectives. Roles require the collection and analysis of information, policies and procedures in order to describe the status quo and develop or modify systems, operational plans,broader agency-wide policies and/or specialised projects.

Responsibility is beyond immediate priorities and is focused on creating an environment that can respond to changing needs and circumstances, ensuring that there is a high level of integration with the broader context, including the organisation’s direction and role within government.

In smaller agencies or parts of organisations roles at this level may assume accountability for a number of recognised functions,activities or programs, however it is not uncommon for SES roles at this level to be more singularly focussed on one program or initiative, providing comprehensive leadership and direction on that area of focus.

A key feature is the need to work through others in order to achieve outcomes and build the capability, including the human capital of the organisational unit.

Roles are actively involved in influencing and convincing others in the pursuit or achievement of specific and set objectives and representing the agency and government authoritatively.

Stakeholder engagement on sensitive issues, in order to share or seek information, and/or to advocate a particular position, is a regular feature of roles at this level. Focus tends to be at a detailed level involving high order technical or content appreciation.

Roles actively build sustainable relationships within the agency, within the Minister’s office, across the APS and with external parties. Roles are responsive to stakeholder needs and engage stakeholders during times of change, resolving conflict and managing sensitivities within constrained time frames. Focus is often on achievement of desired objectives and ensuring negotiations remain on track.

Where roles manage a team/branch or unit, they will be required to manage interactions and influence processes and outcomes through others.

The operating environment is both complex and diverse. Direction would be specified in terms of broad organisational objectives. Roles may embrace a range of activities and/or operate in a complex, specialised environment. Focus can be national and/or international,representing the organisation or government.

Roles are required to understand a range of external factors affecting the agency, and regularly monitor and respond to a changing operating environment. This extends to understanding contemporary and emerging cross-jurisdictional and international issues.

Work is characterised by the regular requirement to improve or revise established techniques, methods, systems or policies, or the relating of precedent to new situations to propose solutions that usually have enduring effects which extend beyond the immediate work environment.For many roles there will be a requirement to adapt or develop new systems, methods and processes.

Diversity/Span Judgements and Independence

Roles usually embrace several related activities which need to be coordinated with other activities within a related function, or other functions not under the control of the role.

Professional / specialist roles operate across the full range of a recognised discipline or asa specialist, and may, in addition, have thought leadership or managerial responsibilities for a range of professional / specialist roles.

Position objectives and operating policies are broadly defined with established methods,procedures and processes.

At this level a variety of alternatives must be considered before choices can be made. Problem resolution may need to take account of established management systems, professional standards,budget parameters or known equipment capacity.

Complete information may not always be available, requiring roles to make effective judgements under pressure, anticipate and manage risk, consider alternative courses of action, address problems in the work environment, devise action plans and advocate new approaches

Delivery roles are governed by clear objectives and/or budgets. Compliance with regulatory and reporting requirements is a key feature. Within this framework, the role independently manages the day-to-day activities of staff to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery and proposes creative solutions to problems.

Policy and professional/specialist roles provide advice and recommendations within the framework of broad policy parameters and required standards of professionalism and objectivity.

Delivery Public Policy Regulatory Professional / Specialist

Delivery roles build and maintain the capability of an organisational unit to ensure the effective delivery of government policies, strategies and programs aligning with the corporate plan and within budget parameters; for example:

  • Achievement of performance standards and measures
  • Financial and human capital and other asset management
  • Leadership in implementation and delivery of strategic/major agency activities and initiatives
  • Collaboration and negotiation with State/Territory governments

Policy roles provide intellectual leadership and where necessary marshal expertise in the area of operation, while also understanding the impact of the environment, whole-of-government priorities, and community and stakeholder influences and interactions; for example:

  • Lead policy development and review activities
  • Provide expert advice in one or more areas of government policy
  • Analyse policy options and prepare material for policy statements
  • Consult on policy options and assess stakeholder feedback
  • Prepare and/or sign off on briefs/advice to Ministers within broad policy parameters within a defined area of government policy

Regulatory roles build and maintain the capability of an organisational unit to effectively implement compliance programs,gather and assess intelligence and manage risk and threat; for example:

  • Stakeholder education to support implementation of regulatory requirements
  • Lead enforcement and compliance programs
  • Contribute to the establishment and maintenance of governance frameworks
  • Foster and maintain standards of independence and professionalism in audit and assurance

Specialist roles provide intellectual leadership and where necessary marshal expertise in the use of complex though conventional methods and techniques of a particular area; for example:

  • Exercise influence within the agency and across the APS
  • Provide a key escalation point for professional/technical matters related to the specific discipline
  • Participate in cross-agency coordination/collaboration
  • Provide advice on legislative interpretation

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Focus of interactions, while often across the agency or directed inwardly with staff reporting to the role, extends to broader corporate leadership, and cross-government and external representation
  • Takes responsibility for performance outcomes for a specific program, initiative,or for quality of advice provided
  • Takes responsibility for the management and development of all staff in an organisational unit
  • Leads an organisational unit in implementing programs, projects and initiatives
  • Contributes to one or more elements of organisational governance
  • Recommends decisions on performance improvement initiatives and options
  • Plans and manages budgeted resources
  • Influential source of advice related to a specific area of knowledge or practice,which will form a key input to agency decision making processes
  • Primary planning focus assumes an immediate current year focus but with an understanding of future implications.

APS Work Level Standard SES Band 2

Leadership Capabilities Stakeholder Management Job Context and Environment

Roles at SES 2 strategically lead the implementation of programs and initiatives. It is rare that roles will operate within a single frame of reference, as they are more likely to drive a range of activities and initiatives, with a requirement to tactically balance resources in order to optimise both the efficiency and effectiveness of activities and functions under their control. Some roles, however, will have a more limited range of focus to deal with particular issues of high complexity or risk, often for a specified time frame.

Roles are characterised as requiring extensive knowledge and skills,and advanced professional/specialist/public administration expertise. Roles at this level have a strategic understanding of the organisation’s role, considering multiple issues for both the organisation and its stakeholders.

Roles are largely focused on strategic activities which align with government objectives and anticipate future requirements.

Roles focus on activities that support organisational sustainability,including the development of human capital, facilitate information accessibility and sharing, monitor resourcing pressures and implement strategies to ensure the best results are achieved. Roles accept full accountability for projects or funding in their charge.

Position holders are seen as influential leaders within the agency, and contribute to the development of organisational strategies to meet government objectives. Roles directly influence the development of policies and the delivery of programs, committing the agency to a particular course of action or policy relating to the standard of service or implementation of government policy.

Roles effectively lead and oversee stakeholder engagement and influence outcomes, including through leading and motivating others to cooperate over priorities, the use of resources, management decisions, policy frameworks and technical concepts and processes.

Roles proactively develop productive working relationships across the broader APS and actively engage, inform and advise a diverse range of major stakeholders across a range of complex issues. Interactions will extend to external stakeholders domestically and internationally,as a principal representative of government and advocate of key roles. While content appreciation is important, the focus is largely on achieving satisfactory outcomes.

Effectively responding to and anticipating the needs of key stakeholders, and providing advice persuasively in an environment of time pressure, divergent views and conflicting priorities are key features.

Roles operate in an environment where there is a requirement to identify long-term opportunities, consider emerging trends and the whole-of-government agenda, and formulate strategies, plans and priorities which are underpinned by robust analysis and investigation.

The issues are complex and may be characterised by any one or combination of the following: problems and issues arising frequently;new methods are regularly required; resolution of issues breaks new grounds of knowledge; or there is no available source of advice or guidance.

Roles are required to consider multiple options to resolve complex problems and develop innovative and realistic solutions. Roles will efficiently and effectively assess environmental factors, identifying relationships between complex issues and developing contingency plans to mitigate risks to the achievement of government priorities.

Diversity/Span Judgements and Independence

Roles would manage a total function or professional discipline at a whole-of-agency level with accountability for the integration of a number of functions. Roles are likely to oversee the implementation of multiple, integrated change initiatives with outcomes which significantly impact communities, stakeholders and services.

Roles would typically include function heads of organisational units with extensive corporate resource accountabilities, and/or policy advisory accountabilities, and/or substantial/specialised knowledge demands.

Roles would work with a large degree of independence as to methods, procedures and processes within a framework of broadly established policies, priorities, and goals.

Roles are often responsible for significant change initiatives which will have agency and/or cross-agency impacts. Whilst operating within an existing policy and practice framework, roles will have considerable freedom to determine how to achieve results.

Roles make statements of behalf of the agency in accordance with policy parameters. Roles are accountable for program development, planning including resource negotiation, implementation,effectiveness review and professional and objective standards of assurance.

Roles directly influence the development of policies, and initiate new developments in either policy and program delivery, or professional practice, which establish precedent for the agency.

Delivery roles will either substantially influence the allocation of resources or allocate resources in the short term, and make medium to long-term commitments where there are defined precedents.

Delivery Public Policy Regulatory Professional/Specialist

Delivery roles manage the capability and resources of a function at a whole-of-agency level

  • General management and broad executive direction
  • Responsibility and accountability for a defined part of agency’s outcomes
  • Financial, physical and human capital management
  • Major program management
  • Leadership in implementation and delivery of strategic/major agency initiatives

Policy roles provide highly critical advice in the area of operation and represent the agency on those matters

  • Establish policy development frameworks
  • Provide authoritative policy advice in one or more areas of government policy
  • Consult on policy options to achieve outcomes
  • May provide direct advice to Minister on a specific program or policy issue

Regulatory roles provide highly critical advice in compliance, risk management and intelligence gathering and assessment

  • Lead evaluation of effectiveness of regulatory policies, operational frameworks and guidelines
  • Engage stakeholders during analytical stages of problem solving and risk assessment
  • Assess emerging issues and trends which may impact on regulation management
  • Establish and maintain standards of independence and professionalism

Specialist roles provide highly critical advice in the area of expertise

  • Exercise influence cross-APS,or cross-jurisdictionally
  • Ultimate escalation point for professional/technical matters related to the specific discipline
  • Drive strong external peer network within function/discipline

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • These roles usually require extensive professional/administrative management experience
  • Integration of diverse activities or multiple functions at agency level
  • Contributes to organisational leadership and to overall governance processes
  • Compared to Band 1, focus is more often across agency or on the external context
  • Contributes to shaping and implementing overall corporate strategy
  • Places organisational unit activities into broader whole-of-APS and environmental context.
  • Primary planning focus assumes a 4-year horizon and beyond.
  • Recommends decisions on significant strategic alternatives to Secretary/Deputy
  • Authority to plan and manage organisational resources, linking capability to business planning
  • Typically represents the level accountable for aggregation of functions and activities to determine priorities, and argue the case.
  • Impacts on whole-of-agency performance outcomes
  • Principal and authoritative source of advice related to a specific area of knowledge or practice upon which the organisation and Ministers depend.

APS Work Level Standard SES Band 3

Leadership Capabilities Stakeholder Management Job Context & Environment

Roles at SES 3 are characterised as requiring knowledge which is developed as a result of extensive and advanced professional or executive management experience.

Roles at this level have a governance focus and are considered fundamental to the agency’s performance delivering policy or program outcomes. Position holders would be seen as policy/program innovators and generally manage a substantial multi-disciplinary workforce that includes the identification and management of risk at agency level.

Roles require considerable proficiency in management in a multi-disciplinary and diverse context and provide strategic leadership in building organisational capability. In some cases,roles may involve overall responsibility, under the agency head, for most or all aspects of agency management.

At this level the major activity is forward planning or strategic decision-making: for example, evaluating the environment and identifying the fundamental issues to be resolved. Influencing factors are diverse. Problem resolution will focus on complex matters which have substantial, strategic impact for government. This requires a synthesis of facts, detailed analysis, interpretation, the conceptualisation and evaluation of alternative approaches to the problem. Projects require versatility and innovation to define/redefine strategy, develop standards, guidelines, methods, new techniques or criteria.

Roles at this level would be accountable for a number of integrated functions or operations and the comprehensive integration and coordination of major line and/or staff functions in a large complex, agency-wide or APS-wide activity. Some roles ,however, will have a more limited range of focus to deal with particular issues of very high complexity, innovation,political sensitivity or risk, often for a specified timeframe.

Roles will be principal government representatives, with authority to negotiate and/or resolve conflict with stakeholder leadership. Negotiation often occurs in an environment of conflicting positions, technical, policy and legal complexity and divergent views amongst government’s most critical stakeholders. This requires sensitivity and advanced skills to understand the positions of all parties, gain participation in resolving issues and effectively advocate a preferred course of action. Focus is largely on strategic longer term outcomes or particularly sensitive/contentious matters with whole-of-government impacts.

Direct liaison and advice to Ministers would be expected, often spanning multiple agency outcomes. Roles assure the quality of advice provided to Ministers by establishing and articulating appropriate frameworks for others.

The absence of precedent and clarity of direction within an ambiguous context are key features.

Roles at this level operate within an environment where there is a strong requirement to identify and define corporate issues or emerging issues of major community, professional or government concern. It would be expected that roles at this level would be highly adaptable in order to define core agency service delivery strategy or policy positioning, develop new programs or policy initiatives and to manage strategic change with government-wide,community-wide, whole-of-sector, national or international impact.

Role objectives are broadly established through agency/organisation or government policy although guidelines, strategies or tactics are often ill-defined or incomplete, allowing for considerable flexibility in interpretation and adaptation. Existing guidelines or policies may be inadequate in dealing with complex or unusual problems and it is likely that the lack of precedent is a significant feature in the majority of activities pursued,thereby requiring the management of risk and innovation.

Diversity/Span Judgements and Independence

Roles would manage a function or professional discipline with a whole-of-government focus with accountability for the integration of a number of functions where operations may be diverse in terms of geographic location, program/service and clients. Workforce accountabilities would typically be extensive.

Some roles may have high level cross-agency, cross-sector,national or international coordination responsibilities

Focus of decisions is more about strategic outcomes and outputs as opposed to technical content, and assumes a long term frame of reference.

Roles are subject to broad policy, operational and commercial constraints, budgets and practices. Roles have substantial freedom to draw upon resources to achieve planned results.

Roles that exercise statutory independent functions require high levels of professionalism and objectivity.

At this level, roles are often required to develop strategies and policies to supplement and reinforce existing policy direction and frameworks and would regularly advise and brief at Ministerial level. Conceptual challenges arise from the need to provide clarity and direction, and identify critical long term risks and strategies for mitigation in the context of significant ambiguity.

Roles may exercise substantial independence in the management of a significant professional office or organisational unit which operates separate from other units in the agency/organisation and which accounts for a substantial proportion of agency operations.

Policy experts would give guidance on and make judgements about proposed new standards and new areas of policy or expertise put forward by subject and technical experts. This includes making judgements about the value of alternative sources of advice.

Specialised professional roles may be required, where necessary, to challenge, establish or alter standard concepts, theories, objectives or previously formulated requirements, and may be responsible for the integrity of overall legislative and regulatory frameworks.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • These roles usually require advanced professional/executive management experience
  • Substantial contribution to agency governance and culture
  • Integration of diverse activities or multiple functions in largest agencies,with key impacts on whole-of-agency strategy and planning
  • Provides whole-of-agency organisational leadership
  • Focus of role largely on broader and more complex issues of external context with national/international influence
  • Decide corporate strategies within policy parameters, with a long term focus
  • Strategic development and evaluation of long term alternatives and decision making
  • Authority to plan and manage organisational resources
  • Impacts on whole-of-agency or whole-of-government performance
  • Principal and authoritative source of advice upon which the organisation and Ministers depend, spanning multiple agency outcomes or on issues of very high risk and complexity
  • Effective management of parliamentary, political, and public service environment

Australian Public Service Commission – Work Level Standards

Stakeholder Consultations: Questionnaire


  • To test the suitability and ease of application of the draft WLS across the diversity of SES roles; and
  • To test whether SES roles are being correctly classified by agencies


1. Describe the overall context and priorities for your department.

2. Describe the focus of your role and its major contribution (e.g. delivery, policy, regulatory, professional/specialist)

What we are after here is a purpose statement / mission statement. A one sentence summary of why the role exists.

3. Please explain where your position fits within the organisation’s structure.

To whom do you report?

Number of your direct reports:

Their levels and roles:

Your Peers:

Total staff and FTE:

4. What are the 4 key (most significant)accountabilities of your role?

Eg key accountabilities. If unclear, establish time horizon and key results role for which role is accountable.

5. What are the main challenges for your role both now and into the future?

6. What are the critical judgements required by your role?

If unclear, establish the typical situations in which the role applies judgement.

7. What are the role’s key relationships within and outside of the organisation, either within the agency/department, APS, the Minister’s Office, other jurisdictions, overseas or outside of government?

Stakeholder management: for each of the key relationships – what is involved and the relative impact, e.g. negotiation, representation, conveying an agency/government position etc

Within agency/department Other government jurisdictions

Within APS Overseas

Minister’s Office Outside of government

8. What is your role’s financial responsibility?

Identify operating/recurrent budgets, project/capital expenditure, funds/grants managed for 2010/11.

9. Are there specific professional or technical knowledge or skill requirements related to this role? If so, what are they?

10. Is there anything else you’d like us to be aware of pertaining to your role?

37 Dawkins J, Second Reading speech, Public Service Reform Act 1984

38 Dawkins J, Reforming the Australian Public Service, December 1983, Canberra

39 Report from the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, Development of the Senior Executive Service, Canberra 1990, (1990:10)

40 Keating, M, The Public Service and Management of the Public Sector, in Ryan, S and Branston, T (Eds), The Hawke government: a critical retrospective, Melbourne 2003 (2003:372-3)

41 Management Advisory Committee, One APS One SES Statement, October 2005

42 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the game – Blueprint for the reform of Australian Government Administration, March 2010 (2010:22)

43 Public Service Board Annual Report 1978, Canberra 1978 (1978:20)

44 Top Management Structures and Management Tools, Public Service Board Memorandum No 15 to the Review of Commonwealth Administration, October 1982 (1982:3)

45 Ibid 1982:3

46 Responsibility for classification policy transferred from the Public Service Board to the then Department of Finance in the 1987 machinery of government changes. It subsequently transferred to the Department of Industrial relations in the early to mid 1990s.

47 Department of Finance, Australian Public Service Senior Executive Position Classification Standards, Introduction TS/3

48 John Nethercote, Research Paper 24 of 1998 99 – Departmental Machinery of Government Since 1987, Politics and Public Administration Group, Parliamentary Library, 29 June 1999

49 McDermott, K, Senior Executive Service Census Survey: the next five years (2009), 2009:8

50 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the game, Blueprint For The Reform of Australian Government Administration, March 2010, (2010:22)

51 P. Reith November 1996, Towards a Best Practice APS – Discussion Paper, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra

52 The Policy Parameters for Agreement Making in the APS until 2007; and the Australian Government Employment Bargaining Framework from 2007 onwards.

53 Australian Government Employment Bargaining Framework Supporting Guidance September 2009

54 2009 APS Remuneration Survey – in which 58 agencies participated covering approximately 84 per cent of SES employees – 2,379 SES employees reported in the Survey, out of a total of 2,845 SES reported in 2008/09 State of the Service Report

55 Remuneration Tribunal, 2010 Review of Remuneration for Holders of Public Office

56 Top Management Structures and Management Tools, Public Service Board Memorandum No 15 to the Review of Commonwealth Administration, October 1982 (1982:5)

57 Department of Finance Annual Report 1983-84, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra 1984:5

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018