State of the service

Senior leadership in the APS

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To be effective today our senior leaders need to be highly skilled. Previous State of the Service reports demonstrated the importance of senior leader behaviour in the workplace. Senior leader visibility and communication have been shown to impact positively on the workforce, including employee engagement. An agency’s appetite for innovation and managing risk is influenced by the attitudes of their senior leadership. The behaviours of senior leaders can create an environment where employees deal effectively with change, complexity and uncertainty.

  • “Improved perceptions of APS senior leaders maintained in 2015”

The drivers of employee engagement include leadership shown by senior leaders. We use the results from the APS employee census to track employees’ perceptions of their senior leaders over time.

You can read more about employee census results relating to employee engagement here. Learn more about State of the Service reports here.

The gains made in 2014 in relation to senior leaders have been maintained in this year. Results from 2014 demonstrated improvements in employee perceptions of the quality, visibility and communication of senior leaders. However, there remains room for improvement in the areas of engaging with staff and leading and managing change.

Employee perceptions of senior leader behaviours

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data and full question set for Figure 1.

Percentage positive
Figure 1 is a bar chart showing that employee views of senior leadership behaviours in their agency, improved across all supervisor capabilities from 2013 to 2014, and were largely maintained in 2015. Scores across all capabilities ranged from 28% to 47% in 2013, 29% to 54% in 2014 and 30% to 54% in 2015. The lowest scored capability overall was: senior leaders give their time to identify and develop talented people (28% in 2013, 29% in 2014 and 30% in 2015). The highest scored capability overall was: senior leaders ensure that work effort contributes to the strategic direction of the agency and the APS (54% in both 2014 and 2015. This question was not asked in 2013, the highest scored capability in 2013 was: most senior leaders are sufficiently visible at 47%).

A wide gap exists between senior leader perceptions of themselves and the perception held by APS and Executive Level (EL) employees. The gap is significant and warrants attention.

Perceptions of senior leader behaviours by classification

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data and full question set for Figure 2.

Percentage positive
Figure 2 is a bar chart showing levels of satisfaction with SES leadership behaviours tend to increase with classification level for APS 1–6, EL to SES employees. Employee satisfaction levels range from: 28.8% to 67.1% for APS 1–6, 41.2% to 70.9% for EL and 67.2% to 92% for SES. Overall levels of satisfaction with SES leadership behaviours are highest for: SES act in accordance with the APS Values behaviour, and lowest for senior leaders give their time to identify and develop talented people behaviour.

While just over three quarters of the Senior Executive Service (SES) feel they take the time to develop talented employees, only around 30% of their subordinates feel that this is true.

Similarly, nearly 80% of SES feel that their agency’s senior leaders are sufficiently visible. Over three quarters believe that senior leaders engage with staff on how to deal with future challenges. Yet only half or less of APS and EL employees believe the same.

Employee perceptions of senior leader behaviours can be influenced by the size of the agency. Employees from extra large agencies are less likely to record positive responses against assessments of their SES behaviours compared to those in small agencies. This result is likely a function of the distance between employees and their most senior leaders. It highlights the importance of effective communication and engagement strategies, in larger agencies.

Employee perception of senior leader behaviours by agency size

Paper icon representing the learn more page Learn more about this chart: view data and full question set for Figure 3.

Percentage positive
Figure 3 is a bar chart showing employee views of their SES leadership behaviours broken down by agency size: Micro/Extra Small/Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large. Levels of satisfaction with SES leadership behaviours tend to decrease as agency size increases, with Micro/Extra Small/Small agency employees having the highest levels of satisfaction, while employees from Extra Large agencies have the lowest. The strongest behaviours in 2015 were: SES act in accordance with the APS Values (overall agree rates ranging from 64% to 76%). The behaviours employees rated the lowest were: senior leaders give their time to identify and develop talented people (overall agree rates ranging from 28% to 38%).

The leadership of an organisation has a profound effect in the workplace. Good leadership can substantially enhance the work experience. Poor leadership can lead to a decrease in employee engagement and an increased intention to leave. The SES plays a significant role in creating an environment in which employees contribute to the productivity of the service. The results presented here suggest there is room for improvement. However, gains made in previous years have been maintained, providing a solid base from which to work.

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Read the State of the Service Report 2014–15 on the APSC website.