Strong capability

In this section:

Capabilities are the knowledge and skills that employees need to perform their roles effectively, to drive organisational performance and meet strategic objectives (Elias, 2016).

Workforce capability is not a static resource, rather it is dynamic and shaped by the changing nature of work and the community. Contemporary public sector capability is about having the skills to navigate an increasingly complex political, technological and demanding environment, and therefore can impact on the public’s trust in public authorities. During change, authorities are vulnerable to being more reactive than proactive, and the need for strong employee capability to manage this within the existing workforce is paramount.


Leadership ‘bench strength’ has never been more important in light of the structural and policy changes around SES officers currently being experienced in the public sector.

In times of change, leaders face a complex challenge which is double-edged: leadership to continue to deliver high quality services to the community; and leadership to give effect to complex change. Striking the right balance between competing priorities is critical. Leaders also need to remain vigilant about the subtleties of workplace culture, employee engagement and accountability during these times to ensure the overall ‘good health’ of the workforce during change.

Developing consistent capability of leaders and emerging leaders should continue to be a high priority for the sectors. This is partly being assisted by the Commission’s success profiles and guidelines for measurement. A more consistent approach enables improved collaboration, coordination and provides a level of certainty required for strategic workforce planning in the future.

Middle managers

Recent management research shows the quality of middle managers is fundamentally linked to organisational performance and employee engagement. However, managers promoted through the system are often unprepared to handle the complexities of people management, and require support in order to be prepared accordingly (OECD, 2016).

Continued, strategic investment in current middle managers and supervisors is required to ensure teams, who are primarily responsible for service delivery, thrive and remain engaged. 

Employee insights - Managers and supervisors
Managers and supervisors
  • 82% agree their immediate supervisor clearly communicates what is expected of them
  • 79% agree their immediate supervisor seeks and considers their views about decisions that directly affect them
  • 73% agree their immediate supervisor has good people management skills
  • 53% agree their immediate supervisor appropriately deals with employees who perform poorly

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Our analysis

Research shows perceptions about an employee’s direct manager or supervisor has the greatest impact on their level of engagement (Beck and Harter, 2015). The 2017 EPS data shows strong perceptions about managers and supervisors.

Corporate services

Many positions of trust within the sectors are in corporate services areas, for example Chief Human Resource Officers, Chief Finance Officers, Chief Information Officers and senior governance practitioners. These public officers are the custodians of governance frameworks and are arguably, the ‘engine room for change’.

Structural reforms in the public sector will see changes in the composition and capability profile of corporate services units. Agencies need to consider the strength of corporate services’ capability to ensure the high-risk functions they manage do not become vulnerable to lax or unethical practices.

Capability as a priority during financial constraint

Learning and development initiatives should be a priority to take advantage of the opportunities change brings, and to effect it well. Despite the financial constraints facing authorities, it is imperative they continue to develop and invest in employees to deliver real returns not only in increased capability, but also improved employee engagement.

Capability and ethical decision making

Regular, customised training in integrity and ethical practice for all employees, and a strong value proposition that promotes inherent integrity and ethical conduct, are essential tools in developing and maintaining a high-integrity culture.

All employees in the public sector must complete Accountable and ethical decision making (AEDM) training in accordance with Commissioner’s Instruction No. 8 – Codes of conduct and integrity training. Emphasising a connection between the Code of Conduct and ethical training is paramount to embedding integrity into day-to-day decision making. Eighty-nine per cent of public sector agencies reported their AEDM training is aligned with the themes of their code.

Public sector agencies reported two-thirds of their current workforce (94 235 employees) participated in AEDM training in the past five years. In other authorities where ethics training is not mandatory, of those that had available data, 31 per cent said between 80 and 100 per cent of their staff have participated in ethics training over the last five years.

Authorities should focus on ensuring employees complete ethics training early in the employee life cycle, as this sets clear expectations for dealing appropriately with ethical dilemmas.

Employee insights - Capability and career development
Capability and career development
  • 85% agree they can make full use of their skills, knowledge and abilities to do their job
  • 54% agree to being satisfied with opportunities to progress their career in their current organisation
  • 72% agree training and development opportunities are available to all employees in their workgroup

Our analysis

Employees in senior roles (those earning $150 000 and above) overwhelming agree with these statements, where mid-level employees (those earning between $85 000 and $149 999) were less likely to agree with them.

Generalist vs specialist capability

The sectors will always require technical experts, who are highly qualified in their field, to develop policies for—and deliver programs to—the community. However, generalist or ‘soft’ skills such as relationship management, teamwork, negotiation, stakeholder engagement, conflict resolution and adaptability form a valuable skill set that should be developed across the board. 

As engagement with the private, not-for-profit and media sectors increase, public authorities cannot afford to lag in required generalist skills and capabilities. Ensuring the workforce is ready to take this challenge is critical in maintaining public trust, excellence in service delivery and conforming to recognised best practice (Donaldson, 2017). Change can also offer valuable opportunities to develop specialist capability. For example departmental amalgamations can facilitate the centralising of specialist functions such as forecasting and strategic workforce planning leading to the development of this increasingly relevant and valuable skill set (Victorian Government, 2016). 

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Specialist investigation training

As part of its misconduct prevention and education function, the Commission provides specialist investigation training to public officers with responsibility for conducting investigations across the sectors. The training provides participants with recognised competencies required to conduct investigations under a range of powers. On completion, participants receive a nationally accredited qualification, Certificate IV in Government (Investigation). For officers who oversight investigations, the Commission also funds the Diploma in Government (Investigation) course.

This year the Commission surveyed those who participated in the Certificate IV training over the last two years to gauge their experiences. Of the respondents, 85 per cent reported they had completed the program and received their certificate, and 72 per cent have conducted an investigation since completing the course. Also, 96 per cent of participants reported the course assisted with their understanding of the legislative framework for conducting investigations.

Respondents were positive about the capabilities they developed and/or improved during the course. Planning and initiating an investigation was the capability respondents reported believing had most improved, but for most, capability improvements were seen across the board. 

More broadly respondents also identified improved capability or knowledge in the following areas:

  • Improving resources and processes for internal investigations.
  • Differentiating between minor and serious misconduct.
  • Investigating conduct from a misconduct, human resource and general perspective.
  • Communication strategies.
  • Documentation processes.

Following the course, respondents advised there was now a process in place at their authority—previously not in place before the course—where multiple representatives from one authority had participated, there was improved consistency of process.

Most encouragingly, 76 per cent of respondents rated themselves as confident in conducting an investigation as a result of the course. 

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Page last updated 19 October 2017