In 2017, the Public Sector Management Program or PSMP as it is known celebrates it’s 25 year birthday. As an institution of Public Sector middle management training and professional development, the program prepares and upskills managers for personal and career success in the public sector and non-government organisational context. John Currie has been facilitating the program for 25 years and shares his knowledge, wisdom and experiences with us today to give us an insight into the history and future of the program.
This is Part 2 of our interview with John Currie.
Are there any funny or memorable student lightbulb moments that stick out for you when you’ve taught so many public servants?
Very much so, there have been many. I think because I’m pretty attuned to spotting the silly, ridiculous, and the ironic moments in our political and community debates and trying to use it to highlight the inconsistencies and incongruences that exists in public life and the world of the public servant and as such people appreciate that because they see it themselves, but they just don’t always get a chance to talk about it. To look at it in a humorous light but also then say well what is serious about it.
Really I feel extremely fortunate to of had those stories shared with me by people over the past 25 years because they’ve been gifts to my professional life. A few memorable moments come to mind.
One included being haggled by an unknown voice from the back of the room in front of a new class, only then did I realise it was one of my high school teachers who had an extremely influential role in my life had once again just schooled me on the art of comedic timing.
Some other memorable moments include teaching a number of women’s only and indigenous only courses in NSW and the incredible insights and challenges they shared with me. I also have fond memories of teaching the program in regional areas where participants would commute hundreds of kilometres and many, many hours each way to get to the program. So it was really seen as hugely important to them and they would put in great a commitment during their time in the program.
I’m thinking also of people who join the public service as relatively recent arrivals to Australia, and they’ve come as migrants to make a new life for themselves and their families and they also want to make a contribution to the community and they see that doing the work and making the effort in the PSM Program as being something that is both good for them but they can give back to the community through extra effort and the skills they’ve learned.
At one point, we took the PSM Program to Fiji. The value of the PSM Program was indirectly proved I think for me anyway, a little while later, when Fiji again went into turmoil when a gentlemen called George Speight launched a civil coup attempt on the Fiji government to oust the democratically elected Bavadra government.
The government printing service was run by a guy who was a former Fiji rugby captain who was the local hero because he had captained the Fiji side that beat the British Lions, so he had legendary status and still does, across Fiji and just happened to be a PSM participant. His in-depth knowledge of the constitution enabled him to cleverly thwarted the coup by having the printer ‘go missing’ when George Speight dropped by his office and cleverly prevented printing of the proclamation he desperately needed.
In what ways do students network during the program and beyond it?
The primary importance of the workshop is in building the personal and professional connections between participants and very much from the outset we need to build the group ethos and camaraderie so they can work together, share together and learn together and it comes out in things such as the interactions in class, the honesty of people’s comments and reflections, the respectfulness of that honesty, but then goes through into things such as study groups, where they’ll form informal study groups with either geographically located close to them or in the same agency or people they get on well with, but also social events and for groups to organise graduation plans to make a complete day of it.
Also, increasingly there is the electronic contact that people are able to make, email, Yammer so the networking is a strong part and will become stronger as we develop the PSMP Alumni network, that will have 25 years of students sprinkled throughout the public sector, which is something that can be strongly leveraged for the future.
What future challenges do you foresee for the public service and how should public servants respond?
We have high and increasing community expectations of government, government services and the public sector. This is combined with increasing complexity and interrelationship of issues that have the potential to create an intensification in the number and type of seemingly rather retractable problems that face government and the public sector. So these problems have got seemingly deep and increasingly intertwined social, economic, technological and environmental causes and consequences and governments and the public sector will be under ongoing and relentless pressure to develop medium and long-term approaches to dealing with these things but they are going to continue to do it within a political and policy cycle that is only 3-4 years in length and that’s a huge conundrum.
The challenge for the public sector is that the future calls for leadership, vision, wisdom and excellent public management skills to build an evidence base and the expertise to deal with the problems of the present and to innovate for a brighter future for all Australians.
What excites you about the future of the public sector?
The overwhelming majority of public servants I’ve worked with over the past 25 years in the PSMP work there to provide a reasonable degree of security for themselves and their families but they’re strongly motivated by working to improve the lives of others and in doing so work to create a fairer, more just, more tolerant, more creative, more resilient and more sustainable society.
So what excites me about the public service and the role of the Public Sector Management Program is our efforts over the past 25 years to better equip public service middle managers to understand the forces that shape their work and to develop the skills to manage and lead those around them to work whole heartedly for a better Australia and that continues to excite me into the future.
I think one of the great strengths of the program is how it provides that capacity building for the public service and I don’t think has ever been and continues not to be as well appreciated within some levels of the public service as it needs to be and there are greater areas where we need to emphasise, particularly local government and increasingly the use of non-government and not for profit groups to deliver services.
We’ve done great work, we’ve influence the lives of many people but there is still an awful lot to do.
QUT Executive Education would like to thank Mr. John Currie again for sharing his insights on Public Sector Management Program and his humbling experiences during his 25 years teaching the program since its inception. We continue to value John’s expertise in the program and we look forward to ensuring the PSM program develops critical leadership capabilities for the public sector and responsively delivers public value to the community it serves.