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Leadership and employee engagement

The positive relationship between leadership and employee engagement has been established over the past three years through the APS Employee Engagement Model. The way leadership is practised and management expertise is applied can have a substantial positive or negative effect on employee engagement with the workplace.

Figure 5.2 compares employee engagement scores from 2012 to 2014. Overall, 2014 levels of workforce engagement were slightly higher than 2013 and results show a positive trend over the three years. Importantly, the marked rise in supervisor engagement reported in 2013 has increased slightly.

Figure 5.2. APS employee engagement, 2012 to 2014

Source: Employee census

Perceptions of immediate supervisor performance

Overall, employee satisfaction with immediate supervisors remained high in 2014. Seventy-eight per cent of employees agreed with the statement ‘I have a good immediate supervisor’, up from 73% in 2013.

Figure 5.3 shows employee satisfaction with immediate supervisor capabilities over three years. The improvements made across all immediate supervisor capabilities in 2013 were largely maintained in 2014. These results were achieved in an environment of considerable structural and functional change across the APS, and when considered with the improvements in satisfaction with senior leadership reported earlier, this is a positive result.

Figure 5.3. Employee perceptions of immediate supervisor behaviours, 2012 to 2014

Source: Employee census

This year, for the first time, the employee census tested a measure of transformational leadership.9 Thirty years of research has shown that leadership, and specifically whether leadership is transformational or transactional, predicts a wide variety of performance outcomes, including individual, group and organisational-level variables.10 Transformational leaders inspire those around them to change expectations, perceptions and behaviour and work together toward a common goal. The behaviours associated with transformational leadership include identifying and articulating a vision, providing an appropriate model, fostering the acceptance of group goals, setting high performance expectations, providing individualised support to employees and providing intellectual stimulation. These behaviours formed the basis of the measure of transformational leadership included in the 2014 employee census.

While more work is required to refine the measures of transformational leadership tested in this year's employee census and better align them with the leadership model used in the APS, Figure 5.4 shows that more than two-thirds of APS employees agreed their supervisors demonstrate transformational leadership behaviours.

Figure 5.4. Employee perceptions of supervisor transformational leadership behaviours, 2014

Source: Employee census

The measure of transformational leadership included in the employee census shows a strong positive relationship with all four components of the APS Employee Engagement Model—job, team, supervisor and agency—with the strongest of these being the supervisor and team components.11 This suggests that leadership practices reflecting transformational behaviours can have a positive impact on employee engagement and, thereby, performance and productivity.12

The measures of transformational leadership tested across the APS are broadly consistent with the leadership behaviours highlighted in the leadership and core skills strategy. For example, the leadership and core skills strategy emphasises leadership practices such as diagnosing challenges, testing assumptions, encouraging divergent thinking, and demonstrating moral courage and independent judgement.

Leadership in the APS is not just the responsibility of senior public servants. All APS employees are responsible for practicing leadership, whether having the courage to raise a missing perspective, point out contradictions and/or reinforce the APS Values. In the current environment especially, the APS requires sophisticated leadership practise at all levels. The results presented in Figure 5.4 suggest a good foundation from which to continue to develop this requirement.

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9 Burns, JM 1978, Leadership, Harper and Row, New York.

10 Bass, B & Bass, R 2008, The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications, (4th edn), Free Press, New York.

11 Job 0.421; team 0.587; supervisor 0.683; and agency 0.448.

12 Australian Public Service Commission 2011, ‘Appendix 3: The development of the Australian Public Service Employee Engagement Model’ in State of the Service Report 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.