APS Executive Level 1 (EL1)
Equivalent State Government Level:
EL1 is the key transition point for an APS officer from subject matter specialist to manager. At this level, you are expected to take on a more strategic role in the execution of your section’s duties, while also (usually) taking on responsibility for the management and mentoring of officer-level staff.
At the EL1 level, you will be required to frequently represent your agency at internal and external meetings, and liaise directly with senior officials across Government. Depending on your role, you might also lead public consultation processes and other external stakeholder engagement processes.
You will be expected to produce high-level strategic documents including briefs, answers to Parliamentary questions, legislation and associated materials, often on short notice and under significant pressure. You will always have numerous competing priorities and spend as much of your time managing up as managing down.
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.
Shapes Strategic Thinking
Inspires a sense of purpose and direction
Provides direction to others regarding the purpose and importance of their work.
Illustrates the relationship between operational tasks and organisational goals.
Sets work tasks that align with the strategic objectives and communicates expected outcomes.
Understands the organisation’s objectives and aligns operational activities accordingly.
Considers the ramifications of issues and longer-term impact of own work and work area.
Harnesses information and opportunities
Gathers and investigates information from a variety of sources, and explores new ideas and different viewpoints.
Probes information and identifies any critical gaps.
Maintains an awareness of the organisation, monitors the context in which the organisation operates and finds out about best practice approaches.
Shows judgment, intelligence and commonsense
Undertakes objective, systematic analysis and draws accurate conclusions based on evidence.
Recognises the links between interconnected issues.
Breaks through problems and weighs up the options to identify solutions.
Explores possibilities and innovative alternatives.
The EL1 level is the main, minute-to-minute interface between the senior executive and APS officers. As such, you need to be reliable as both an effective conduit of strategic information (both up and down the chain), but also as an interpreter to ensure the information being conveyed is useful to your audience. For example, quick briefing points given to an SES office for a meeting will require far less detail than explaining the strategy behind the approach to the office responsible for researching those briefing points (in order to ensure the end product is what’s required.
‘Strategic thinking’ as an EL1 is a crucial skill that you must practice and model at every opportunity. Relevantly, an assessor will want to see that you are comfortable taking highly complex subject matter and producing work that supports – and drives progress towards – high-level strategic Departmental goals.
You must be able to clearly articulate where your own work fits within the objectives of the organisation – when you are explaining your examples, always be sure to demonstrate why you took the action you did and how it helped progress the higher-level agenda of your Secretary, Minister, or if in the private sector, CEO or other senior executive.
The second limb against which you must demonstrate your competency is your capacity to use your intelligence and problem-solving ability to make use of the information available to you to produce better work. This includes synthesising recommendations for new ways of approaching tasks based on information from a range of sources and implementing disparate ideas and concepts; thinking critically and ‘out-of-the-box’ about how you approach your work and always looking for ways to do things better.
Builds organisational capability and responsiveness
Reviews project performance and focuses on identifying opportunities for continuous improvement.
Identifies key talent to support performance.
Remains flexible and responsive to changes in requirements.
Marshals professional expertise
Values specialist expertise and capitalises on the expert knowledge and skills of others.
Contributes own expertise to achieve outcomes for the business unit.
Steers and implements change and deals with uncertainty
Establishes clear plans and timeframes for project implementation and outlines specific activities.
Responds in a positive and flexible manner to change and uncertainty.
Shares information with others and assists them to adapt.
Ensures closure and delivers on intended results
Sees projects through to completion.
Monitors project progress and adjusts plans as required.
Commits to achieving quality outcomes and ensures documentation procedures are maintained.
Seeks feedback from stakeholders to gauge satisfaction.
The EL1 level tends to be the most nimble in the public service for reacting and responding to issues. This is because as an EL1 you are not so senior that all your time is spent in meetings and performing administrative tasks, but at the same time you are closely enough connected to your work to remain a subject matter expert. As a result, a lot of pressure is put on you to keep up-to-date of both your own area of focus and the organisational maelstrom above.
Therefore, your flexibility and responsiveness to shifting sands should be strongly articulated here. The one constant in Government is change; between the three-year election cycle, regular cabinet reshuffles and internal organisational restructures, you need to be highly adaptive and to be able to get on with the job in the fact of constant transformation.
What this means for you is that you must show you have a strong ability to oversee projects and take them through to the end in the face of uncertainty and doubt. Achieving results as an EL1 is all about taking charge of your work, finding and utilising resources as you need them and delivering your managers results – not questions.
The best-regarded EL1 officer is the one that thinks through issues to the end, comes up with solutions for problems that haven’t yet appeared, seeks outside counsel – including from external stakeholders where relevant – and engages their bosses only when updates are sought, or important decisions need to be made.
You must show that you are capable of running your own show, sticking to plans and timelines you agree for your projects, of using resources (including human resources) appropriately and that you understand when, and how often, to engage senior management on your work.
Cultivates productive working relationships
Nurtures internal and external relationships
Builds and sustains relationships with a network of key people internally and externally.
Proactively offers assistance for a mutually beneficial relationship.
Anticipates and is responsive to internal and external client needs.
Facilitates cooperation and partnerships
Involves people, encourages them and recognises their contribution.
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 and encourages the exploration of diverse views.
Harnesses understanding of differences to enhance interactions.
Recognises the different working styles of individuals and tries to see things from different perspectives.
Guides, mentors and develops people
Identifies learning opportunities for others and empowers them by delegating tasks.
Agrees clear performance standards and gives timely praise and recognition.
Makes time for people and offers full support when required.
Delivers constructive, objective feedback in a manner that gains acceptance and achieves resolution.
Deals with under-performance promptly.
It is critical as an EL1 to be able to nurture relationships with a range of people who can help you do your job better. This includes internal officers – (e.g. subject matter experts in related disciplines) and those external to your Department, or even the Government. Depending on your job this could mean business, academia, community groups, media or private citizens. Therefore, you need to be adept at getting along with all people, being helpful to them and utilising their input when you need it.
This is even more crucial if you are in a role that involved direct contact with external clients; as a representative of the Government it is incumbent upon you to be a professional, reliable interface with your stakeholders.
At its core, cultivating good relationships is all about demonstrating that you understand the value of respect and appreciation of viewpoints, including those other than your own. It is about understanding that the best policies and programs are impartially designed and implemented, based on facts and research – including seeking input from those best-placed to provide you with unique and valuable insights.
This includes more junior officers, and especially those officers that are under your supervision. You must show that you are supportive and nurturing of their development as professionals and subject-matter experts. This means always being attentive to their development needs, offering feedback and support in a proactive, constructive fashion and always taking their opinions on board.
One of the best attributes of a high-performing EL1 is a willingness to share credit with their staff – it shows that you are a team player and it gives your staff motivation to work harder and perform at a higher level, as they know that they will be recognised for the good work they do.
On the converse side, you must also demonstrate your ability to protect your staff from the daily pressures of bureaucracy and the constant winds of change, so they can get on with doing their jobs. This is not an easy balance, but is a fact of life for an EL1.
Exemplifies 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 and impartially 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 public and internal forums.
Engages with risk and shows personal courage
Provides impartial and forthright advice.
Challenges important issues constructively, and stands by 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 proactively steps in and does what is required.
Commits energy and drive to see that goals are achieved.
Persists and focuses on achieving objectives even in difficult circumstances.
Remains positive and responds to pressure in a controlled manner.
Continues to move forward despite criticism or setbacks.
Demonstrates self-awareness and a commitment to personal development
Self-evaluates performance and seeks feedback from others.
Communicates and acts on strengths and development needs.
Reflects on own behaviour and recognises the impact on others.
Shows strong commitment to learning and self-development, and accepts challenging new opportunities.
As an EL1, it’s integral to demonstrate your integrity and drive, both in the performance of your role and in your commitment to your own professional development. The assessing panel will be looking for continual improvement in both, over the course of your career to date.
On the former, the key is to show that you are capable of producing high-quality outputs and advice to senior managers with a high degree of precision and on short timeframes. Senior managers want to be able to rely on you for ‘frank and fearless’ advice on your specific areas of responsibility. Accordingly, you will get a lot of points if you show a desire to research, learn and keep up to date with the latest on what might impact your work, including from related fields.
Knowledge is power – and the more you know, the more confident you will be in defending your positions to those more senior than you. Confidence is key – if you are confident, then your bosses will be confident in relying on you as a professional and effective operator.
You must also demonstrate that you are committed to finishing the tasks you begin – you plan, but more importantly, you execute on those plans. You keep work on track and you seek out additional assistance and resources proactively when it’s required in order to meet set deadlines.
You are energetic and motivated to produce results and your pro-activity rubs off on those around you, with your unit pulling in the same direction to ensure you achieve consistent and dependable results.
Just as importantly, you need to be able to anticipate bumps in the road (both internal and external) and take measures to redress such issues or minimise their impact to ensure they cannot derail your progress.
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 strong grasp of the key issues, having prepared in advance.
Understands the desired objectives and associated strengths and weaknesses.
Anticipates the position of the other party, and frames arguments accordingly.
Encourages the support of relevant stakeholders.
Strives to achieve an outcome that delivers benefits for both parties.
As an EL1 you will be increasingly called upon to attend important meetings and represent your section or branch in internal and external forums.
Accordingly, your presentation skills are very important in this role. Further, as you will routinely be required to provide briefings and insight to senior management, you need to be able to show that you can take complex subject matter and distil it down to the most important one or two points that that person needs to know.
You must always be concise and avoid ‘waffle’ – the more concise and direct you are, the more confident those around you will be that you are a master of your subject.
As an effective communicator and senior team member, it is equally important that you can listen, and put what you hear into action. The second part of this is where many managers fail. They listen, but they do not actually hear what is being said. If you are to demonstrate your strength as a communicator, you might think about the times you have heard what a more junior officer is saying, and used that information to put into practice an important change in the workplace.
Negotiation will play an increasingly significant role in your life – whether with other agencies, governments or countries, or internally for resources or an appropriate allocation of work priorities. To this end, it is critical that you show that you are a team player and believe in fair outcomes, but just as importantly that you are capable of defending important positions and achieving results that align with the priorities of your work or policy area.
Often, what is more important in a negotiation is knowing what is least painful to give up that will make both sides happy. Take this opportunity to show your understanding that negotiation is not always about winning – but often, it’s more important that both sides leave happy and the next negotiation with that party will be conducted in good faith.
At the APS5 and 6 levels, we wrote extensively about the importance of catering your communications to audience. It is assumed, once you reach the EL1 level, that you will be highly proficient at crafting your message to ensure it connects with an appropriate audience, and in the appropriate format. In government, when you will be writing material for everyone from the Minister to the Layperson, this is of paramount importance.
The key to convincing an interviewer that you are suitable for an EL1 position is to be confident and reassuring (in both your words and your manner) that you know the role carries a lot of responsibility and you will live up to the expectations that are placed upon you.
A lot of individuals find themselves floundering when they make the lead from the APS levels to EL1, because they underestimate the extent to which they are protected as APS6s from both the vagrancies of the senior bureaucratic machine, and the personalities of the senior staff themselves.
The EL1 level is where most public servants start assuming responsibility for not just individual programs or policies, but for entire areas of work. As an EL1, you may be called upon, with no notice, to provide frank and fearless advice to senior managers or represent your Agency at an external meeting – and you need to sound like you know what you’re talking about.
Therefore, when you are being interviewed for an EL1 role, it’s absolutely critical that you are instilling in your interviewers the confidence that when the pressure is on, you will be the one to deliver what they, or others in their position, will need.
Even if you will not be supervising many staff, you need to demonstrate (in your examples) that you are an inclusive, inspiring leader who brings people along to achieve strong results. Additionally, you will need to show that you have the capacity to grasp and engage with highly complex subject matter and its intersection with other policy areas. Again, the best way to demonstrate this is through the use of actual examples from your work history.
Advancing to the Next Level:
The move from EL1 to EL2 is primarily an increase in managerial responsibility. An EL2 (Director) is responsible for an entire section, which would usually comprise between 6 and 18 people (in a policy or program management team). Some sections, especially in State service delivery offices, can exceed 100 people.
So the ability to manage is an absolute must.
But it isn’t just about managing people. You will also have responsibility for maintaining a corporate budget and ensuring it is spent appropriately (including on developing staff).
EL2s are called upon regularly to provide frank and fearless advice to senior Departmental staff (up to, and including, the Secretary in some roles) and the Minister and/or their advisors. You need to possess a strong working knowledge of all the work going on in your section and the ability to respond to short-term, high-profile requests, including for media and Parliamentary purposes.
If you are able to demonstrate strength in these areas, you are on your way.