What the public service taught me

By Shae Lalor

I'm putting it out there. Working as a public servant was actually a blessing. While I may not have said (or thought) so at the time, hindsight has offered some interesting perspectives.

It's only now, as a small business owner, that I can say my days as a public servant had a direct influence on my ability to run this business of mine.

Those many years of meetings, strategies, procurement, more meetings, delegations, briefs and reporting, helped shape my knowledge, and my empathy.

The lingo

It's handy to know what people mean when they're aiming for a WoG approach (whole-of-government) or that a draft will need Cabinet approval.

Also great to know the difference between a Directorate and Department, Portfolio or Agency.

Plus the general requirements, and processes, for funding rounds, media or event briefs, QoNs, or Senate Estimates briefs. Or how about the impacts of a MoG or caretaker period?

While I may not join in with the lingo these days, it's tucked away in my memory bank for reference purposes, and supports my credibility.

But be warned: I'll always aim to simplify the lingo or ditch the unnecessary.

The challenges

I've been there – managing staff, chairing working groups, managing a budget, reporting to management, diplomatically working with internal clients, and engaging external providers.

Aiming for true collaboration when there are so many parties involved is one of the biggest challenges as a public servant, while simultaneously trying to stay on top of the various decisions and how they may impact on your work.

Then there's building relationships with people who then move (or are moved) to a different section or project. Or surviving a toxic culture. Or awaiting your next restructure.

I always bring my understanding and empathy to the table.

The process

Certainly not unique to government, but seemingly ultra complex at times, the 'process' for any government project can be a beast. The process may involve key stakeholders, research, multi-faceted approval processes, engagement with other sections or teams, and possibly Ministerial sign-off. 

I get it. I allow time for the escalation of approvals, changes in scope, and am flexible when the process (inevitably) changes along the way.

The people

My ultimate learning from the public service: there are many people working their butts off to get results.

There are daily frustrations that prevent progress.

There are specialists and generalists, all driven by different motivations or directives.

At the heart of it, we're all people just trying to do our best.

You can be assured that I'll bring all these insights to your writing and editing projects – with minimal fuss and tangible results.