I was sitting at a table way in the back of the Great Hall at Parliament House when a gentleman sat next to me and introduced himself: David Pryce, Deputy Director-General Access Canberra. It did not take long to find common ground which was the Public Sector Management Program (PSMP).
David completed the PSMP in the 1990s in the NT and was curious to find out how this program is currently being delivered.
Since I am managing the national delivery of the PSMP, I was delighted to provide David with an update. Never missing a chance, I invited David to be a guest speaker at one of our workshops in Canberra. Not long thereafter, David was sharing his professional journey from a police officer in the Northern Territory to Deputy Director-General in Canberra, with a PSPM cohort explaining the importance of working in different tiers of government as well as different roles.
To my delight, he credited the PSMP to having been the catalyst for his stellar career. In David’s own words, “The Public Sector Management Program was a turning point in my career development and future. Looking back now, it was a defining moment for my future career.”
David’s PSMP journey
David goes on to say: “The PSMP began a new journey for me by laying the necessary foundation for me to achieving new opportunities and, ultimately, reach my current level and role.
In simple terms, the PSMP opened my eyes to the importance of leaders in driving innovation, implementing change, and creating positive organisational cultures to deliver outcomes for the community and government.”
“It provided me with the practical tools, understanding, and confidence to engage and lead on important policy issues as well as to become more involved in driving change at the workplace level. In addition, the networks and exposure to different people and new perspectives opened my mind to being more critical in my thinking and reinforced the value and knowledge that can be gleaned through collaboration across multiple sectors.”
“In my mind, the PSMP opened the doors to the rest of my career in the public service and was a life-changing experience for me. I have no doubt that the investment that my department made at the time to allow me to undertake the program has been returned ten-fold. The PSMP also reinforced the importance of on-going development for leaders due to the ever-changing landscape around government and community expectations of the public service.”
PSMP helped David find his voice
While talking with him, David revealed how the PSMP helped him in so many ways. He states that he started to understand the broader picture, and how he could contribute, and encourage others to enable activities and achieve outcomes. Particularly useful was the networking with people from other departments and areas of Government that he wouldn’t ordinarily get to meet and engage with. These key takeaways helped him ‘find his voice’ and develop his confidence.
…If I thought I was ever going to be a Commissioner of Police, not only did I have to be a good police officer, I needed to understand how Government worked. I needed to understand how to develop policy, and I needed to know how to run an organisation. I couldn’t just be a really good police officer, that would get me so far, but if I wanted to be at the top of my game, I had to do all that.”
How do workplace projects help?
Workplace projects are a big part of the PSMP, and we have seen some amazing workplace projects coming through. It’s mind-boggling the value some participants can bring back to their workplace and organisation.
David commented, that if you can identify an issue that needs change or warrants it, (the PSMP) can help you gather the evidence, think about who to influence to get buy-in, and get started, at a low level. You could build it up to be a major policy, policy outcome, or budget initiative.
When I did the PSMP, I would never have envisioned myself being in this role. It’s so far from what I started as. But what it demonstrates to me is if you learn those fundamental skills about being a good leader, understanding how government works, understanding how to work with colleagues across government, understanding how to give frank and evidence-based advice to ministers, so that they can make the decisions they need to make for our community.
What advice would David give to his younger self?
David’s advice is simple “When doors open or people offer opportunities, make sure you don’t miss the opportunity!” You’ll grow from that experience and see the world from a different perspective.
Take the opportunity to do something different, even if it’s just to reaffirm what you’re doing, why you love what you’re doing. But at least you’ll get an appreciation, from an external point of view.
David credits getting experience and understanding across different departments, agencies, directorates, or other areas in contributing to his getting his current role.
What more can I say! David, thank you for sharing your story and hopefully inspiring others to follow your lead.
If you would like to learn more about how the PSMP has transformed David’s thinking and outlook, see the full video here, or read the transcript below.
The Public Sector Management Program (PSMP) is a nationally recognised and dynamic study option catering specifically for mid-level managers in the Australian public service and non-Government organisations.
Evelyne: Hello David
David: Hi Evelyne. How are you?
Evelyne: I’m good. Thank you so much for making the time to join us here today to tell us about your experience of the Public Sector Management Program.
David: No worries, and welcome to our new Dixon Office block, which is a new Government facility we’ve only just opened in the last few weeks.
Evelyne: It looks fabulous. I absolutely love the staircase which reminds me of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It transports me from the Dixon Centre way back overseas.
David: Well we’re certainly learning with the new space because of COVID-19 and just how we sort of populate the space given social distancing, which we’re doing today, which is very important.
Evelyne: And it does work. David could you please tell me a bit about the time, a long while ago when you were thinking about enrolling in the Public Sector Management Program.
David: So it was a long time ago in the Northern Territory in the 90s, and at that point in time I was a police officer with the Northern Territory Police Force in The Northern Territory, and I was at an early stage of my career where I was sort of, uh, I guess starting to think about advancement and promotion to get to in the policing ranks, like a sergeant level, and I was trying to look for opportunities for I guess, um, growth and development and it was suggested that I do this program, the Public Sector Management Program, and at that point in time I really had no idea what it was about, but it peaked my interest in so far as that it was a, um, it wasn’t just a policing program, it actually had people from all across Government Departments come together, and so when I sort of read a bit more and then realised actually I was going to meet a whole bunch of different people from Government, that interested me. Um, it was quite, um, and for a police officer normally a lot of the programs and courses you do are actually law enforcement based or within that sort of environment, so this was something new. And straight away, once I started you know I discovered other agencies and departments within Government that I really knew nothing about, and people that worked in my own sort of town and location who contributed often to some of the outcomes that I was trying to achieve as a police officer, that I had no idea, and so that was sort of I guess my introduction to it. It also started with, um, for me again, we did a weekend retreat, um and so the chance, and that was the first time I’ve sort of really done that where it’s been in-depth time with different colleagues and getting to understand, I guess, how government works, what everyone brings to government, the different perspectives, um, as well as just how again you know, you can look in your world in a very siloed, or a lane you like, if you think of the swimming pool you know I was in my lane of policing and law enforcement, but in fact when you talk about public safety and community safety, there’s actually all these other lanes and they all contribute to the outcome. But I was just thinking about policing and so it sort of opened my eyes to realise, actually I need to look sideways across my lane and say “who are the people next to me?” that, you know, get the outcomes that I want, um, public safety at that time, but actually I need their support because again you know this is actually a public health outcome as well, you know if it’s drug enforcement or some, um, it’s… it’s um, social outcome because you know it’s affecting housing and other social issues, so.
Evelyne: That’s a beautiful analogy about swimming in your own lane and then suddenly being surrounded by people from the other areas.
David: Well for me again, I can only really talk about my experience as a police officer. I just felt the world circled around me and I was the most important person, and what we do as police was really important. But you then start to realise in the scheme of government, um, there’s actually a lot more to the whole of government, and when you think of the higher-order issues that government thinks about, um, you have to be conscious of everything, you… you can’t just have your own focus and especially from a budgeting perspective, you know I used to think again why… why wouldn’t we get funding for these issues they just seem so obvious to me from a policing perspective. But when you think and you contrast it from a health perspective or an education, or a housing you know, these some of these are fundamental human rights or issues and the Government must do something, you know, policing sometimes is lower down the pecking order. And so I started to learn that actually I need to understand the broader picture and then bring colleagues either along with me or leverage off their, you know, where we share a common goal and then work out how I can leverage off them to say actually I can help achieve yours, but on the way you might actually help me achieve my outcomes. So, I started to realise again I… I, you know, as a police officer, I had to deal with laws and I sometimes, why, I think “this law is an ass” you know. How do we change that, or why is the policy this? It makes no sense. But I… I used to think that again, as a police officer, I just you know did my job, I just followed the law, but then I actually realised, actually you can actually contribute to the policy discussion or influence how legislation is formed, um, and contribute to budgeting, you know, decisions that actually deliver things. And so, that’s what the PSM started to actually explain to me. This is how this government works. This is how… how you can collaborate across government, how you can develop policy, build budget proposals, that you know obviously bring resources and funding to enable activities or outcomes to be achieved.
Evelyne: So, what you have just described is really the Unit One Managing in a Networked Government, and so it’s really interesting to see what still, you know, what you have learned then, how this informs you probably now as well.
Evelyne: I just was curious about, uh, Unit Two, which is about Managing Self and Others. That whole, as a thinking of you, as a policeman in the Northern Territory, about awareness of self and teamwork, and how other people are reacting and behaving. Do you still remember anything from that?
David: Well, I do. As I said too, um, one of the first things that I’d never really experienced was this, the retreat. And part of the retreat is actually appreciating how people perceive you, um, and your style and how you come across, as well, as you got a good sense of others. And again, as a police officer, you know, you… you sort of pride yourself in the ability to read people and to influence other people. But often that was positional power ,or legislative power, um, and I’ve learnt more than ever now in my… my current role in government again, the… the probably, the… the most power that I bring to my position is actually the ability to engage and influence with others. So get people to do things for me, when in fact I have no authority or power, but I’m trying to convince them to do that for me, or to work with me to deliver an outcome. On starting with, um, you know the point about ‘self’, is again going back, I was a young… young police officer looking for advancement and promotion. And you start to realise again, um, as a police officer in a uniform again, I would rely on positional power or the authority of my rank and or my role, when in fact um in a lot of these things, and even dealing with the community, while that will get you so far, it actually doesn’t bring people with you. They’ll do it for as much as, long as, they think they have to, you know, when your light of influence is right on them, but as soon as you move away, they’ll revert. It’s about understanding yourself where you can actually leave an effect, an impression, you know. The… the… the concept of planting an idea or getting people to buy into an idea, you know, when they say, “you can’t kill an idea”, it’s that… it’s that type of influence, you know. When people around say “oh, we want to do this”, people might do it because you’re there, but you want them to do things when you’re not there, or to act in the way that you hope… hope they want… you want them to act when you’re not there. So, part of learning about yourself is actually, you know, you… you do need to engage with people, and people perceive you differently, um, often than from what you see in the mirror, or think they do. The biggest thing for me, and I’ve said this to you before, in one of the PSM classes, is actually I found I think I found my voice and my confidence through the program. Which… which… which was a development of, I guess, of self. When I started to realise that I again, everyone has something to contribute regardless of their perspective or their point of view, it’s just understanding how you, how you portray that, how you communicate that. But… but, valuing yourself like, valuing, um, your learned experience through… through life, your work and then contributing because, um, often… often the greatest voices, when you develop a policy, or… or deal with issues are the weakest voices in… in the in the broader scheme, so they’re the voices that aren’t heard. And they’re the most important because if you don’t hear them then you leave people behind, or you leave sections of our community behind. And so, um, to me, it’s about just finding your voice and having the confidence to actually contribute.
Evelyne: That’s really beautifully said.
Evelyne: It’s actually listening to the people, are hearing the quiet voices.
David: Yeah, um, and again there were there were people like, you know, when I talked about the retreat, and I think back now, there were people that again ordinarily I probably wouldn’t have engaged with or thought, “oh what would they know”, but actually when you sort of force yourself to engage, listen and then truly understand, hopefully, um, what they’re saying, you actually realise actually that what they’re offering is of value to me. I’ve just got to work out how I then incorporate that into my thinking or… or build upon that. Because, by doing so, you’ve now got another ally, you know, and… and another voice who’s championing, hopefully, your idea or your concept or, uh your proposal.
Evelyne: Yeah, that’s wonderful, but you also mentioned that you made those connections at that time, and that has carried forward through, uh I think, till today. People that you’ve met in the, you know, I think, in the 90’s.
David: There’s a few programs that, um you know, development programs, that I’ve done throughout my career, that are, that I’ll never forget. And I’m basically, they’re my like my go-to “phone-a-friends” or, and I had one the other day. So the CEO of Services Australia, Rebecca Skinner, she was appointed at the start of COVID-19. I did a, um, another national, you know, national program that she was on, and her and I spent a fair bit of time together, through that program, that was a few years ago,. I then see her appointed to this role, and so I could immediately pick up the phone and say, “remember me, we did this program together”. PSMP was one of those type of programs. Now, although it’s quite distant, but I do remember like, it was probably, um within five to ten years, when because of promotion and people just, I guess, um, moving through their careers, um, you’d converge again with people and… and that you’d see them again, you say, “oh, what are you doing?” and they’d be like, “I’m now a head of this this function” or, “I’m an executive over here” and then you realise actually I’ve got key allies, and it’s almost, you can pick up the phone and just say, “Hey, remember me PSMP, PSMP or the retreat, you remember me at the retreat?” “Yes, I do.” And you could have a conversation, but it’s almost like you didn’t have to do the introduction… introductions or build trust or confidence. You could start straight off and so to me PSMP… PSMP opens that up because you have a great group of people, that you come together for a fair bit, talk about many different things, and so you can either… you can either work with them when, when they are in the space that you want, like, um… um, they can contribute directly, or if nothing else, and this is where I’ve probably used my networks more, it’s you just want to sound an idea, who’s got no other interest but they can give you a genuine truthful perspective, or go back to what you said right at the start where they sort of say, “what are you thinking, are you crazy?” or actually, “that makes sense”. But, because they’ve got no other interest than yourself, or just as a friendship, they can give you that true, honest feedback. And, to me, that’s gold. When people actually tell you face-to-face, say actually that… that doesn’t sound, you know, well thought out, or um, they give you that honest feedback. Whereas a lot of people, some of them just nod and say, “yeah, good… good luck”, you know, but they don’t really give you that feedback, so.
Evelyne: Now that’s beautiful. And, I think, another question I had for you, when you when you look back, and where you are now, and you see that the career path that you had, and you mentioned that you really did, it really did help you in forging your career, what would you advise, would you give yourself as a younger self, you know, thinking back, would you do anything differently? Would you have done it later in your career or do you think was the right time when you did the program?
David: Um, I thought about this in preparation for today, There’s, so, there’s a couple of things, so um, at that… it probably was the right time. I didn’t actually ask for it, per se, it was suggested to me. So, my advice is when doors open or people offer opportunities, make sure you don’t miss the opportunity. Or, don’t be afraid to walk through a door because you just never know what’s on the other side. And throughout my career, often where I’ve grown the most or learned the most is actually opportunities that I did… aren’t ones that I’d anticipated, or I had planned for. They were the unplanned or unanticipated, and I’ve grown more because they are more probably more of a challenge, and they actually set me on a path that I wasn’t anticipating so I was actually more conscious about my world or more curious about learning, um. So, to me it was at the right time. It did start to broaden my thinking and so it was then that I started to take many other opportunities in work. I guess, one of the other things I thought about is the opportunity actually to work at outside your lane, um, so this is where if you get a chance to relieve, and perhaps even in your own department, agency, directorate in another area, do it. If you get an opportunity to be seconded in another department, do it. Because two things will happen. One you’ll… you’ll grow from that experience and… and see the world from a different perspective, um. And you bring that back and so again, you bring back all these other skills and experiences that you didn’t have before. Or it reaffirms and gives you an understanding of their world view so that when you’re dealing, let’s say, if I did as a secondment with health from policing, when I come back, I then understand if I want to engage with them. I now see, I can understand how they see the world. And quite often, it’s lost in translation, police speak in a policing speak, law enforcement contact. But you’ve got to speak in a medical or a health context, and unless you’re speaking in their language, they’re not hearing what you’re saying. And so, you start to then appreciate why… why don’t they get it. It’s because, actually you know, you’re talking Martian and they’re listening Venus, you know, um. So, to me, it’s walk through those doors when you get the opportunity. To take the opportunity to do something different. Even if it’s just to reaffirm what you’re doing, why you love what you’re doing. But at least you get appreciation, from an external point of view.
Evelyne: And I think that’s really, really important. Particularly in today’s world which is so interconnected. Do I still understand what someone else is doing? And, as you mentioned, in the PSMP we have people from different areas of here in the Commonwealth, very much Commonwealth’s representation, but also, I have to say thank you to you, a higher representation of ACT Government employees.
David: Yeah, to me it’s… it’s great, um, and I’ve certainly been saying again, again, the chance to collaborate with people across different sectors and different, I guess, Governments even, is so valuable. And for me as, I guess, now, as the Head of Access, Canberra in the ACT, you know, I value people that have actually had multiple experiences and different perspectives, I… I appreciate people that have come up through the ranks. But that only gets you so far and you almost become a one-horse trick if you do that. To me, if given the choice, I’d much prefer someone who’s got experience in multiple directorates or departments, maybe worked in private industry as well as in a public sector, um. Probably been in geographical, you know whether it’s city, rural, um, or remote even, coming from the Northern Territory. It’s those things, I think, give more a rounded, a rounded sort of individual.
Evelyne: That’s fantastic I actually made connection with someone from the Northern Territory who has now moved also to the ACT Government. He graduated from the PSMP two years ago, and we had a lovely chat about his transition from the Northern Territory to the to the ACT.
Yeah, well, certainly for me I… I realised as a police officer to become it, um, through the, you know, the PSMP started me off. For me to be if I was, if back then, if I thought I was ever going to be a Commissioner of Police, not only did I had to be a good police officer, I needed to understand how Government worked. I needed to understand how to develop policy and I needed to know how to run an organisation. I couldn’t just be a really good police officer, that would get me so far, but if I wanted to be, you know, at the top of my game, I had to do all that. And so, it was those things that started to sort of, I guess, put me on a trajectory of growth and learning, and even… even to where I am now, the reason I left the Northern Territory again, is because of some of those seeding and thinking, where I thought, well actually, um, why not test myself against, you know, I guess, the bigger market of, you know, the Canberra and… and the Commonwealth, because I joined the Commonwealth for a period of time, and then came back to the ACT, so I’ve sort of got like a, um, a remote territory experience, Commonwealth experience and then back to a like a State Government, Local Government, um, sort of experience, again. And, to me, that’s all those things could have contributed to getting this role.
Evelyne: And, I think, you know, a big role for you in the sense of, especially on the COVID, to shift your services online so that must have been quite challenging.
David: Ah, COVID’s been enormously challenging for everyone, I guess. I mean, I think back, Evelyne, so I’m a police officer, that’s where my career started, law enforcement. I’m now head of the Access Canberra, which is both a Government service provider as well as a regulatory agency. We do a lot of regulatory enforcement, and in COVID we’re enforcing many of the, um, public health directions in the community. So, not only do we contribute to, sort of hopefully, making our city a liveable one and one which you know people want to be, live and work, um, we also make it a safe one by making sure people are adhering to regulations, so, protecting our community. But, back then, when I did the PSMP, I would never have envisioned myself being in this role, and it’s so far from what I, I guess, started as, but what it demonstrates, to me, is actually if you learn all those fundamental skills about being a good leader, understanding how government works, understanding how to work with colleagues across government, understanding how to give frank, um, and… and um evidence-based advice to ministers, so that again, they can make the decisions they need to make for our community. All those things come together, that you then really could do any role, you know, so, Access Canberra is… is in some way so foreign to what I would have imagined. But the reality is, actually, as a… as a leader, if you’ve got all these different skills in your kit bag you can actually be a head of, or an executive in anywhere and across Government. When I spoke to Rebecca Skinner the other day, again, when we were on the, um program a few years back, when I reached out to her, I said to her, “who would have thought when we were talking together”, she was in a Defence at that time, and I was in Justice, and I said, “who would have thought that you and I would be leaving, leading effectively, her Service Australia, the Commonwealth body, and me at the ACT, you know, Access Canberra”. It’s the same sort of service delivery, but that was not in either of our plans back then, and here we are, so.
Evelyne: That’s fantastic, to bring that together and say it’s the collegiality and the learning from each other.
David: Yeah, and straight away again, you know, um, while that was a different program it’s the same logic as the PSMP, you know, just pick up the phone and you can have a conversation, um, and then you build on that. The other thing with the PSMP, I think, is just, um, I say when I’ve spoken to the programs is, just your work’s making an investment to do that program in you, and it’s a considerable investment of both time, money as well as just, you know, applying the resource, to let you think through and do a work-based project. That’s… that’s a… a significant investment, and so, don’t waste that opportunity. Because not only is it self-growth, you can actually contribute straight back to your workplace and so, to me, that’s one of the goals about the PSMP, is actually you can you can say, “actually, I’ve got this issue, this workplace, workplace project, or an idea”, develop it, you know, you actually develop it as part of the program, but then you take it back and you implement it, or you… you roll it out, you know. To me that’s where you can say, “actually I’ve done this from start to finish and now I’ve contributed back”. So, you know, you’re paying it forward, if you will.
Evelyne: I was wondering do you still remember your workplace project?
David: I was trying to think, actually, um. There was a few ideas at the time, I actually, it was to do with a workforce, um, our workforce at the time, like I can’t… I can’t actually remember what it was, because I was a, I think I was on the cusp of becoming a detective, and so it was a bit of, a bit of about how we manage the workforce there and I think it was to do with our training and that. I actually was trying to find if I had, in any way, some records or a copy in amongst my files, but I couldn’t find it unfortunately.
Evelyne: No, that’s all right, of course, and we have seen some amazing workplace projects coming through, that’s just, it’s mind-boggling what value some participants can bring back to the organisation.
David: And so, that so ,it was that opportunity that led me to think, actually if you can identify an issue, you know, you… you believe in, that it needs change or warrants it, you can help you gather the evidence, think about who do I need to influence, how do I sell… sell the proposal, get buy-in, that’s started, as I said, you know, and at a low level, you know, a workplace project, but then you can build it up to, you know, major policy, policy outcome or budget initiative.
Evelyne: Fantastic. I have no more questions for you to ask. I think this is just fabulous, to hear you speaking about the program but also kind of unpacking it and what it still means to you today and what you have learned. The only other question I have, can I ask you again to be a guest speaker?
David: Of course, I always love it because, um, to me, it not only brings back those memories, but actually I learn more from the students, in a way, by hearing their questions and just keeping it real, so to speak.
Evelyne: I’ll take it as a yes.
David: Yes, no problems at all. Socially distanced of course, and probably, um, Zoom or Webex based.
Evelyne: We hope that we can be actually back face-to-face here. That will be in November, but I’ll be in touch.
David: Yep, no problems at all, Evelyne. Thank you so much for the time talk to me.
Evelyne: Oh, thank you David it’s been my pleasure, thanks so much.