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7. Agency classification management practices

To gain a better understanding of the reasons that may have contributed to growth in the SES and of how agencies manage their SES classifications the APSC:

  • interviewed the Corporate/Human Resource executives (at the SES Band 1 and 2 classifications) in 15 agencies and
  • surveyed APS agencies to establish whether agency requirements are being met by the existing APS classification structures, including the SES classification structures, and to examine agency classification management arrangements.

Agency classification management practices

The agency interviews and agency surveys found that most agency heads have not developed agency-specific work level standards for their SES employees as required by the Public Service Classification Rules 2000. Thus agency heads and/or their delegates do not assess newly created SES roles or reassess existing roles that become vacant against a single objective agency standard.

Of the 15 agencies interviewed, for example, only three agencies reported using documented work level standards to inform classification decisions on new or vacant SES roles. Some agencies, such as the Department of Finance and Deregulation, refer to the former 1998 APS-wide SES work level standards in their corporate documentation while others use the APSC’s Integrated Leadership System as a reference point to assist with classification decisions. Agencies using the Integrated Leadership System acknowledged that it was not designed for classification purposes.

Typically agency heads decide – in some cases in consultation with their senior executive – whether an SES job should be created or filled and the appropriate classification level. The common practice is to benchmark against existing positions within the agency, supplemented sometimes with informal external benchmarking against comparable agencies and/or the private sector.

Nor do agencies routinely engage external expertise to advise on classification decisions, although three agencies indicated new SES Band 1 and Band 2 positions had been created in response to specific recommendations of external reviews or audits.

The 2010 survey on classification structures and agency classification management arrangements found that 66 per cent of respondents indicated remuneration was a consideration in classifications – for skill shortages and/or attraction/retention reasons. This suggests in spite of the increased flexibility given to agency heads to set remuneration that managers may be over classifying some jobs based on the required remuneration outcome instead of the work to be performed. The survey questions did not distinguish between different classification groups or levels within groups or between the SES and non-SES classifications. However, this is more likely to be an issue relevant to the SES where the diversity and relative complexity of roles makes classification less straightforward and attraction and retention concerns more acute.

Finding 5.1: Agency heads typically decide whether an SES job should be created or filled and the appropriate classification level. Few agency heads have developed agency specific work level standards for SES roles, or seek expert advice, to inform classification decisions.

SES classification structure and agency requirements

The overwhelming majority of surveyed APS agencies consider the existing APS classification structures, including the SES classifications, meet their business needs – now and in the future.

In relation to SES classifications, there are two issues –the growth in the number of SES Band 3 positions – and the apparently wide range of work levels these roles might span – and the ongoing relevance of the Senior Executive (Specialist) classification. Chapters 3 and 4 explore some of the reasons behind the growth in the number of SES Band 3 roles – ie factors relating to complexity, national security, ICT, media scrutiny and the associated accelerating policy cycle. Chapter 6 reports the findings of an assessment of SES roles against the draft SES work level standards. These and the previous work level standards acknowledge the broad range of work value, different organisational roles and individual jobs comprehended by each SES classification level.

Both the APS-wide classification survey and agency interviews found a marked decrease in the use of the Senior Executive (Specialist) classifications. For example, both the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Taxation Office now classify roles previously classified as Senior Executive (Specialist) as SES roles. Of the 15 agencies interviewed, only three agencies indicated they use Senior Executive (Specialist) classifications.

The clear majority of interviewed and surveyed agencies considered it unnecessary to use the Specialist stream – even for roles that require specialist technical expertise or qualifications. The main reasons identified for not using specialist classifications were:

  • the existing recruitment framework is sufficiently flexible to ensure candidates possess specialist skills or qualifications where these are considered necessary
  • the scope of the SES jobs in the agency encompassed broad senior management responsibilities in addition to any requirement for specialist/technical knowledge
  • the adoption of identical core criteria for SES and Senior Executive (Specialist) roles and the perception that the Specialist stream restricts SES mobility.

In relation to the latter, the Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 1999 (as amended) specified a formal process for assignments from a Senior Executive (Specialist) classification to SES classifications. The move must be as a result of a competitive selection process or a formal assessment conducted by the agency head with the participation of the Commissioner’s representative and the Public Service Commissioner’s approval. (An identical process applies to move between non-SES and SES classifications.) Given that identical core criteria have applied to SES and Senior Executive (Specialist) roles since 1998-99,this process would appear to be unnecessary.

Agency responses confirm that specialist skills and expertise can be accommodated within the SES classification structure. One agency recommended that the concept of APS-wide specialist classification levels could be captured by grouping job families based on professional categories linked to specified qualifications. The ICT capability framework demonstrates that specialist career paths can be accommodated by the development of professional and technical capability frameworks without diminishing or detracting from a single flexible APS-wide classification structure.

Finding 5.2: Specialist career paths, including SES roles, can also be accommodated by the development of professional and technical capability frameworks without diminishing or detracting from a single flexible SES classification structure.

Recommendation 1: The three level classification structure for the SES remains appropriate and should be retained.

Recommendation 2: The formal SES classification structure should be streamlined by abolishing the Senior Executive (Specialist) classifications. Roles classified as Senior Executive (Specialist) should be reclassified to the corresponding Senior Executive classification level

Recommendation 3: The Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 1999 should be amended to remove the process for assignments from a Senior Executive (Specialist) classification to an SES classification.

Against this background the ongoing benefits of maintaining the separate Senior Executive (Specialist)classification stream appear diminished. Currently agency heads may impose additional selection criteria to particular SES roles to address specialist skill requirements.

However, the formal process specified in the Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 1999 (as amended) for assignments from a non-SES classification to an SES classification remains appropriate – ie the move must be as a result of a competitive selection process or a formal assessment conducted by the agency head with the participation of the Public Service Commissioner’s representative. Unlike SES recruitment, the Commissioner has no role in selection processes for non-SES classifications with responsibility resting solely with agency heads.

Classification of SES equivalents in other jurisdictions

The United Kingdom

The SES equivalent in the United Kingdom is called the Senior Civil Service. The Senior Civil Service Grade structure is:

The Cabinet Office applies a broad management framework to the Senior Civil Service, through which it assists agencies to develop expertise and promote cohesion across the Senior Civil Service. However, responsibility for management of the Senior Civil Service is principally a matter for departments and agencies.

Departments and agencies may determine which positions are included in the Senior Civil Service, provided that they have a job weight score of at least seven, and which staff will fill them.

The Cabinet Office maintains the Job Evaluation for Senior Posts (JESP) model that agencies use to classify Senior Civil Service roles. The JESP was developed by Beamans Management Consultants and introduced in 1994 to support the new corporate Senior Civil Service structure. It is the analytical job evaluation methodology for Senior Civil Service positions. It was revised in 1997, 2003 and 2008 – cosmetic changes to address new initiatives – eg Government Skills agenda – and was examined closely in 2009 as part of the review of Senior Civil Service pay – the Normington report.

There are three core pay bands, broadly reflecting the main responsibility levels in most departments and agencies. Departments and agencies have the option of using a fourth band (Pay Band 1A) where there is a business need.

Pay Band/Grade Title
Permanent Secretary Cabinet Secretary
  Permanent Secretary
SCS Pay Band 3 Director General
SCS Pay Band 2 Director
SCS Pay Band 1 Deputy Director

The current Senior Civil Service pay bands are underpinned by JESP points ranges as follows:

  • Pay band 1 JESP 7-12
  • Pay band 1A (if used) JESP 11-14 (nominally)
  • Pay band 2 JESP 13-18
  • Pay band 3 JESP 19-22.

The Cabinet Office maintains the JESP system and

helps to ensure consistency of application and includes, where appropriate:

  • training in its use
  • working with departments to quality assure their evaluations and participate in JESP scoring panels
  • regularly reviewing the methodology
  • promoting good practice and
  • providing assurance, support, advice and guidance.


The SES equivalent in Canada is called the Executive Group. The equivalent of APS employment is Core Public Administration. The Treasury Board is the employer of public servants in Canada’s Core Public Administration.

The Executive Group comprises positions that have significant executive managerial or executive policy roles and responsibilities or other significant influence on the direction of a department or agency. Positions in the Executive Group are responsible for exercising executive managerial authority or providing recommendations and advice on the exercise of that authority.

There can be up to three hierarchical layers of Executive Group managers below the Deputy Minister (usually the top level of non elected senior official in Canada’s Core Public Administration). In turn these positions may be classified into one of five possible levels – with EX-1 being the lowest level and EX-5 being the highest.

Agencies make classification decisions using the Executive Group Position Evaluation Plan (the Plan), a points factor methodology purchased from the Hay Group comprising a scoring system, guidance on its use and a number of benchmark position descriptions. The Plan has been used to evaluate EX-level positions in the Canadian Public Service since 1980 and is managed by the Treasury Board Secretariat but agencies use the Plan to make classification decisions. Deputy Ministers are authorised to approve the classification of all EX positions at the EX-1 to EX 3 level and the classification of EX-4 and EX-5 level positions within a fixed baseline complement of positions.

The Hay Group does not have any involvement in managing the Plan but provides training to relevant agencies. Staff in agencies must be accredited to use the Plan. Many agencies engage consultants to undertake job analysis for classification purposes.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has two people employed in managing the Plan but does not audit agencies’ use of the Plan.

State and territory jurisdictions

New South Wales

In NSW a new SES position can be created by an agency head, subject to a job evaluation being undertaken to establish the level. The position must be determined by the Director General, Department of Premier and Cabinet, who sets a notional limit of SES positions. Once this notional number is established for each agency, it cannot be exceeded without written approval from the Director General.

SES positions may be evaluated using Cull Egan Dell, OCR or Hay job evaluation methodologies. The evaluation of an SES position results in a total point score that determines work value within one of eight levels of the classification and remuneration structure. Evaluations can be done in-house (by qualified evaluators) or by consultants. There is no centralised auditing of evaluations.

A separate senior officer classification exists for Public Service Departments only. These positions are not SES positions. They are covered by the Crown Employees (Senior Officers Salaries 2007) Award and have less flexible work arrangements. Senior Officers Grades 1 to 3 have the equivalent work value to SES Levels 1 to 3 and have equivalent grading and status.


The Victorian SES equivalents are called Executive Officers which are classified into three levels. The levels are defined by pay bands, but no formal arrangements are in place to ensure consistency of work value at each level.


The number of senior executives in an agency and the classification profile is determined by the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Premier. Senior Executives are appointed by the Chief Executive of the Public Service Commission and are employed under contract with the chief executive officer of the agency who also sets their level of remuneration within a defined pay range.

Western Australia

Agencies must seek an assessment and endorsement by the Public Sector Commission (PSC) for the creation, variation and/or reclassification of SES positions.32 Agency classification requests are referred by the Public Sector Commission to Mercer (Australia) to undertake the classification and work value assessments. The cost of engaging Mercer is recouped from agencies. The PSC makes classification decisions based on agency submissions and Mercer recommendations.


Agency heads must seek a determination by the Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet to create or reclassify a senior executive or equivalent specialist role.33

The request from the agency head must include a duty statement, the organisational context of the office, its relationship to other offices in the agency and a Mercer CED job evaluation summary.

Where the duties are determined to be of a senior executive or equivalent specialist nature, a recommendation will be made to the Premier to create an office to perform the duties. The level of the office is determined from the sum of the Mercer points.

Finding 5.3: The extent of centralised guidance and control of classification of SES equivalents in the United Kingdom and Canada and the Australian States varies. The United Kingdom and Canada both have centrally prescribed position classification standards and implementation guidelines with central control for the most senior level(s). New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania require a formal SES job evaluation. Victoria primarily uses its Executive Officer classifications to define pay bands with no current link to formal work level standards.

32 Framework For Executive Classifications (2009) Public Service Commission

33 Ministerial Direction No.17: Senior Executive Service and Equivalent Specialist Officers – Administrative arrangements and Conditions of Service, 21 December 2009

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018