APS Officer Level 6 (APS6)
Equivalent State Government Level:
APS6 officers are senior subject matter specialists with relatively high levels of autonomy and responsibility.
Generally speaking, APS6 officers possess several years of relevant experience (and often significantly more) and are relied upon to advise senior staff on policy, program and corporate initiatives for which they have the primary responsibility.
APS6 is the level where your strategic abilities become crucially important. You will be expected to defend positions, think on the fly and make connections at an advanced level across numerous disciplines, often with very short turnarounds.
As an APS6, you will be expected to take carriage of significant pieces of work, both alone and as a leader within your work unit. You may also have a degree of managerial responsibility, and must be responsive to the needs of the Minister and senior Department officers, turning around important briefings and other materials on short notice and with a high degree of precision.
The information below is taken from the ‘Integrated Leadership System’, published by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) and common to all Federal Government Departments, Agencies and Statutory Corporations. Most State and Local Governments have adopted these criteria (or criteria close to them).
Accordingly, whichever Government job you are pursuing, you should find this guidance to be an excellent place to start.
Supports strategic direction
Supports shared purpose and direction
Understands, supports and promotes the organisation’s vision, mission, and business objectives. Identifies the relationship between organisational goals and operational tasks.
Clearly communicates goals and objectives to others.
Understands, supports and communicates the reasons for decisions and recommendations.
Understands the work environment and initiates and develops team goals, strategies and work plans.
Identifies broader factors, trends and influences that may impact on the team’s work objectives.
Considers the ramifications of issues and longer-term impact of own work and work area.
Harnesses information and opportunities
Gathers and investigates information from diverse sources and explores new ideas and different viewpoints.
Uses experience to analyse what information is important and how it should be used.
Maintains an awareness of the organisation and keeps self and others well informed on work issues and finds out about best practice approaches.
Shows judgement, intelligence and commonsense
Undertakes objective, systematic analysis and draws accurate conclusions based on evidence.
Recognises the links between interconnected issues. Identifies problems and works to resolve them.
Thinks laterally, identifies, implements and promotes improved work practices.
At the APS6 level, your subject matter expertise and strategic focus need to be extremely sharp. At this level, you will be consistently relied upon by managers, including senior executive officers, to take charge of issues and deliver high-quality outputs with no-to-little direction and under significant pressure.
You need to show, therefore, that you are not only capable of working at a high level, but of prioritising tasks appropriately to ensure that the most important tasks (to the organisation) are completed first, and those that need to fall by the wayside are not ignored.
At the strategic level, you must show that you are not only able to understand where your work fits within the broader organisational objectives, but that you adapt your work and, and that of any staff you supervise to consistently support those objectives, especially in times of change.
If you are the kind of person who looks both sideways and into the future and understands the potential impacts of anticipated changes on your work (positive and negative), and is able to adapt your approach to anticipate that change, you will be a very impressive candidate at the APS6 level.
You must have the willingness to put your perspectives and defend your well-reasoned positions forcefully – including to those above you – as you will be relied upon for your deep subject-matter expertise. Especially from the EL2 level and beyond, executives will be heavily dependent upon you for preparing them for high-level strategic meetings; you need, therefore, to demonstrate that you are capable of quickly grasping complex subject matter and synthesising well-reasoned advice upon which they can rely.
Think about a time you have been placed under a huge amount of pressure to deliver a specific product for your manager – What was it? What did you do to ensure it was completed on time? What resources (research, people, etc) did you draw upon to help you complete the task to the highest standard in the time set? What was the result?
Identifies and uses resources wisely
Reviews project performance and identifies opportunities for improvement.
Makes effective use of individual and team capabilities and negotiates responsibility for work outcomes.
Is responsive to changes in requirements.
Applies and builds professional expertise
Values specialist expertise and capitalises on the knowledge and skills of others within the organisation.
Contributes own expertise to achieve outcomes for the business unit.
Responds positively to change
Establishes clear plans and timeframes for project implementation. Responds in a positive and flexible manner to change and uncertainty.
Shares information with others and assists them to adapt.
Takes responsibility for managing work projects to achieve results
Sees projects through to completion.
Monitors project progress and adjusts plans as required.
Commits to achieving quality outcomes and adheres to documentation procedures.
Seeks feedback from supervisor to gauge satisfaction.
Building on the previous point, which is all about developing expertise and performing at a high level under pressure, ‘Achieving Results’ as an APS6 is heavily focused upon using available resources and networks to deliver consistently high-quality work.
Firstly, this is all about going deep into your subject matter. You will be the point person on a number of areas – the expert relied upon to provide advice to those in your section, up the management line and also to others inside (and outside) your Department who need your perspectives to support their own priorities.
Depending on your job, the collection of stakeholders could be small- or very big.
You understand that developing and nurturing professional networks is essential to doing your job – and have a demonstrated history of doing so. You know how to utilise networks to support your own work, and to draw upon organisational expertise where you need to, as well as being generous with your own knowledge.
Using your own expertise and networks, you must show that you consistently deliver work of a very high standard and with limited or no direct oversight. You take control of your own agenda – including prioritising your own work (in communication with your supervisor) and take responsibility for the outcomes – good or bad.
When you receive feedback on your work, you use it constructively to do better next time.
You also need to demonstrate that you can take the broader view – planning out projects from beginning to end, anticipating areas that may cause delays or problems and identifying treatments early, including key decision points for senior managers.
A high-performing APS6 will be strategic not only in how they approach their own work, but in the degree to which they engage their managers on a task – to ensure that adequate input is sought, while diverting a minimum of their time and energy.
Think about how you work with your managers (especially at a senior level) and what strategies you employ to make their lives easier. Emphasise these!
Do you batch your questions, so you only need to meet them once? Do you bring suggested answers, as well as questions, when seeking guidance? Have you spoken to others in the team first, before you knock on their office door?
These might seem small to you, but will make a big difference to a potential manager.
Supports productive working relationships
Nurtures internal and external relationships
Builds and sustains positive relationships with team members, stakeholders and clients.
Proactively offers assistance for a mutually beneficial relationship.
Anticipates and is responsive to client and stakeholder needs and expectations.
Listens to, understands and recognises the needs of others
Actively listens to staff, colleagues, clients and stakeholders.
Involves others and recognises their contributions.
Consults and shares information and ensures others are kept informed of issues.
Works collaboratively and operates as an effective team member.
Values individual differences and diversity
Recognises the positive benefits that can be gained from diversity.
Encourages the exploration of diverse views and harnesses the benefits of such views.
Recognises the different working styles of individuals, and factors this into the management of people and tasks.
Tries to see things from different perspectives.
Treats people with respect and courtesy.
Shares learning and supports others
Identifies learning opportunities for others and delegates tasks effectively.
Agrees clear performance standards and gives timely praise and recognition.
Makes time for people and offers full support when required.
Provides constructive and regular feedback. Deals with under-performance promptly.
As an APS6, it is expected that you will be proactive in your support of your managers, colleagues and supervised staff. This is a balancing act that some handle better than others.
Of course, ultimately, you have a responsibility to your bosses – especially the senior executives to whom you are accountable. However, at the same time, the APS6 level is the nexus between being an officer and a full-blown manager. As such, you need to spend at least as much time thinking about how you work with staff at the levels below you.
This will also serve you well later in your career; as you rise through the ranks, you will remember how those above you managed – good and bad – their staff. The key to being one of the good ones is starting early, seeking feedback actively (don’t be afraid of what people might say) and constantly trying to improve.
To this end, as an applicant for an APS6 role, you should be careful to demonstrate how much you value those in your team, how you support them in not only their work but the achievement of their own career objectives, and how you are a leader in your team. If you are a strong leader, you should not struggle for examples to prove it.
This criterion is all about showing how you support and drive an inclusive, supportive, high-performing team culture. You need to show that you are nurturing of talent, that you are available when people need you (even (especially) if it’s not technically your job) and that you can identify potential performance issues early and support those individuals to get back on track.
Those that perform highly on this criterion are not protective – they share their experience and knowledge freely, they collaborate and welcome input from all areas. They are open to new ideas and encourage innovation without fear of failure.
Finally, you need to demonstrate that you work well with those outside your team; you actively seek opportunities to cross-pollinate ideas and bring in solutions from other policy areas, as well as external stakeholders.
Displays personal drive and integrity
Demonstrates public service professionalism and probity
Adopts a principled approach and adheres to the APS Values and Code of Conduct.
Acts professionally at all times and operates within the boundaries of organisational processes and legal and public policy constraints.
Operates as an effective representative of the organisation in internal forums.
Engages with risk and shows personal courage
Provides impartial and forthright advice.
Challenges issues constructively and justifies own position when challenged.
Acknowledges mistakes and learns from them, and seeks guidance and advice when required.
Commits to action
Takes personal responsibility for meeting objectives and progressing work.
Shows initiative and does what is required.
Commits energy and drive to see that goals are achieved.
Promotes and adopts a positive and balanced approach to work
Persists with, and focuses on achieving, objectives even in difficult circumstances.
Remains positive and responds to pressure in a calm manner.
Demonstrates self-awareness and a commitment to personal development
Self-evaluates performance and seeks feedback from others.
Communicates areas of strengths and acknowledges development needs.
Reflects on own behaviour and recognises the impact on others.
Shows commitment to learning and self-development.
Demonstrating Personal Drive and Integrity at the APS6 level is primarily about being effective – as a leader, as a representative of your team and your agency and, of course in the delivery of your work projects.
To begin with, an APS6 officer is expected to not only understand, but model, the APS Values and Code of Conduct in everything they do. Examples can be difficult here, so think laterally. For example, if you have experienced a situation where you have had to raise issues of concern with the person involved or management, this can serve as an extremely strong example that demonstrates not only your awareness of the values and how they apply, but of your personal commitment to their maintenance.
Secondly, as the highest officer level in the public service, APS6 is the point at which management style and experience become highly relevant. You need to demonstrate, using examples, why you are a strong leader that others enjoy working with. Necessarily, this also requires you to be able to identify your own strengths and weaknesses, understanding that asking for constructive criticism is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Your development needs as an APS6 officer are different to the lower levels, as there is a much greater focus on being an effective leader and manager of people. As the next transition is to the executive level, it would be extremely valuable to show that you are already thinking ahead to leading teams and managing greater numbers of staff by undertaking training and seeking out opportunities to lead teams. Of course, it is also crucial that you are supportive and helpful to your other team members on a day-to-day basis.
Finally, but by no means less important, as an APS6 officer you must show that you are a strong performer in leading small teams to deliver high-quality work. You take responsibility for not only the outcomes of these projects, but also the professional development of the people on your teams. This can entail, for example, identifying where they might benefit from opportunities to undertake training or become involved in specific tasks, and facilitating this development.
Occasionally, things also go wrong (perhaps less occasionally in Government!). This is ok – it’s how you deal with it that matters. A high-performing APS6 officer will not complain or dodge responsibility, but will own their own project and try to find effective solutions. Be a solution provider and everyone will want you on their team!
Communicates with influence
Confidently presents messages in a clear, concise and articulate manner.
Focuses on key points and uses appropriate, unambiguous language.
Selects the most appropriate medium for conveying information and structures written and oral communication to ensure clarity.
Listens, understands and adapts to audience
Seeks to understand the audience and tailors communication style and message accordingly.
Listens carefully to others and checks to ensure their views have been understood.
Checks own understanding of others’ comments and does not allow misunderstandings to linger.
Approaches negotiations with a clear understanding of key issues.
Understands the desired outcomes.
Anticipates and identifies relevant stakeholders’ expectations and concerns.
Discusses issues credibly and thoughtfully and presents persuasive counter-arguments.
Encourages the support of relevant stakeholders.
Generally, as an APS6 officer, you will be called upon to undertake a lot of representation and negotiation work. This could range from sharing updates on your projects with your team to participating in treaty negotiations with foreign governments.
The key is being ready and prepared – having extensive subject matter knowledge, and conveying confidence in yourself and your own understanding of your work. The most effective advocates are able to project self-belief and to explain their point and reasoning in a concise and precise manner.
Part of this skill is ensuring that the mode of communication you use is appropriate to audience. Building on the requirements of an APS5, which are centred around high-quality communication that is appropriate to your audience (both written and verbal), the APS6 officer will be responsible for providing subject matter expertise up the line to senior SES officers, often at no notice.
Accordingly, it’s imperative that you show your assessors that you are not only experienced in analogous work environments, but that you are able to distil your detailed understanding of complex subjects into simple, digestible facts that your mangers and executive can quickly understand and use. Often, the preferred answer is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Finally, as an APS6 officer you will find yourself in negotiations on a routine basis, whether for resources or for the allocation of work between sections, or with external stakeholders. In order to prove you are an effective negotiator, you need to show that you are able to comprehend the complete picture – all relevant factors, including an assessment of what is important to the other side in the negotiation.
Working together with the counterparty to achieve a set of outcomes that you can both live with is a skill that is essential as an effective senior public servant. Showing your capability as an effective advocate and deal maker, even on smaller items, is going to set you apart as a strong candidate for an APS6 role.
In determining your readiness to make the transition into a job at the APS6 level, your interviewers will be seeking a high level of specific subject matter knowledge (or, if you haven’t worked in the specific area before, a broad understanding of the area from your own research, and the ability to apply or analogise your own experience to solving problems in the new area).
The simplest way to address questions about specific subject areas, when your own knowledge is not yet deep, is to analyse the problem using a structure like ‘PEST’. PEST involves analysing a proposed change (e.g. a policy, program or treatment to a problem) by thinking about its implication in four discrete ways:
Political: What will the political implications be of the proposed policy or program? What are the risks to the Minister if the change is implemented (or not implemented)?
Economic: What are the costs of the proposed program or policy? Will it generate a return? How much? Are there externalities involved that need to be considered (e.g. environmental costs)? How will costs and returns be quantified?
Social: Is the policy or program expected to generate a net positive or negative impact on the community? Which groups will benefit the most? Which groups may suffer? Is it possible to put mitigation strategies in place to prevent harm to people? How will the impacts on communities be handled (e.g. public relations and communications, compensation)?
Technological: How can technology be utilised to bring about the best result? Are alternatives available? Will developing a new technology create scope for other developments down the track that may, or may not, be related to this initiative? Will the return generated by those innovations justify the costs?
Run each of your subject matter questions through this process and you’ll be able to speak confidently and assure the panel of your professionalism every time. After all, everyone knows a little bit about everything, and the ability to process information and generate new ideas is key to being a high performing APS6.
Advancing to the Next Level:
The jump from APS6 into the executive levels is a significant leap. In order to demonstrate your readiness, be prepared to show that, over and above what is required of an APS6 officer, you have made progress on two essential fronts in particular: Strategic focus and your ability to lead.
A former director once told me that the difference between an APS6 and an EL1 was that an APS6 understands the issues and identifies problems, while an EL1 understands the issues, identifies problems, and then presents her with a proposed solution.
Being an executive level officer is all about being an expert in your area, while having the forethought and lateral thinking ability required to come up with solutions or proposed next steps that will make your boss’s job easier. If you can do that, not only will you be successful at this level, but you will make friends of those above you, which will also help propel you to the next level and beyond.
As you know, good managers are not always the most organised, bureaucratic people. Indeed, these people are often so busy following guidelines they forget to take time to inspire their staff and set the tone for a successful team.
Leadership is a trait that you can learn, and you can practice, but it starts with emotional intelligence – understanding what motivates people and how to inspire those in your team to success.
Leadership is not always top-down, so take opportunities as an APS6 to demonstrate your leadership abilities wherever you can, whether it be by chairing a meeting, showing initiative in a piece of work or volunteering to char a fundraising committee. It’s all good practice and it all helps demonstrate what kind of leader, and therefore what kind of manager, you will be.
You need to show you are the kind of person who inspires others to work smarter, do better and achieve more as a team. At the EL1 level, you will most likely be supervising junior staff and they will be relying on you to aid in not only maximising their day-to-day contribution, but also in developing their professional skills that they will use throughout their career. Show that you take this seriously!