This document is part of the Serving Victoria: A guide for Public Sector CEOs resource.

This section of the resource provides an overview of the role of the CEO in supporting their boards to steer the entity on behalf of the responsible minister.

Accountability to the Board

The role of the public entity’s governing body (generally a board) is to steer the organisation on behalf of the responsible minister. This includes:

  • a strategic role: setting the overall operational direction of the entity;
  • a risk management role: monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness and currency of risk management, compliance and reporting systems and notifying the minister of known risks; and
  • a stewardship role: ensuring that the entity’s activities reflect the public sector values and employment principles and that the entity has arrangements in place to meet its statutory obligations.

The role of the CEO is to support their boards to fulfil their responsibilities. Whilst the board is accountable to the government, the CEO is responsible to their board. Part of this responsibility is to support the board to provide good governance of the entity.

An entity’s enabling legislation usually confers on the board all the entity’s powers. Therefore the powers of the CEO and other senior staff are derived by formal delegation from the board.

Underlying Principles

There are four core principles that support public entities’ ability to deliver their legislated responsibilities. These principles should underpin and inform all actions and decisions a CEO makes. The CEO must act:

  • collaboratively rather than competitively with other public sector organisations, and where legal and appropriate, delegate responsibilities and authority to staff within the entity to maximise operational efficiency and effectiveness;
  • flexibly to adapt, develop and change themselves and their entity as demands and challenges necessitate;
  • with prudence in making decisions about the expenditure of public money, allocation of resources and recommendations to the board, on the basis of careful evaluation of need, value and alternatives, and with full disclosure of the process and rationale for decisions made; and
  • applying the public sector values of responsiveness, integrity, impartiality, accountability, respect and the application of human rights to their work and ensuring that others in the entity also apply these values to their work.

Key Responsibilities

A public entity CEO is the operational arm of the board. As such, all CEO roles involve common key responsibilities and, by extension, a common set of tasks, irrespective of the entity or its environment. However, depending upon the needs of the entity and the environment in which it operates, the board may wish to give greater priority to certain responsibilities and tasks in any given period.

The following list provides an overview of the key responsibilities within a CEO role. The CEO’s role is to:

  • articulate a vision: the CEO supports the board in articulating and then promoting a vision of what the entity will achieve in line with its purpose, powers, authority, functions, deliverables, reporting and compliance requirements;
  • establish strategies: working with senior staff, the CEO is responsible for setting strategies to deliver the board’s priorities and meet the entity’s obligations;
  • manage organisational plans: working with senior staff, the CEO is responsible for establishing and delivering operational, financial, workforce and other plans that detail how the entity’s vision – as established by the board – will lead to tangible outcomes;
  • design the organisation: working with senior staff, the CEO is responsible for establishing and revising the way in which the entity is designed, including the key role, relationships, systems, and deployment of staff with particular skills sets, to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of outcomes;
  • manage finances and assets: working with the board and with senior staff, the CEO is responsible for managing finances and assets in line with legal requirements and established business management practices;
  • lead and manage the entity’s workforce: working with senior staff, the CEO is responsible for engaging staff and developing their capacity to deliver the entity’s plans, and ensuring their safety and wellbeing during their employment;
  • establish a productive culture: working with the board and senior staff, the CEO is responsible for establishing a workplace culture that delivers productivity by fostering staff engagement, satisfaction and wellbeing. This includes ‘walking the talk’ by actively practicing and modelling values that contribute to a productive culture;
  • establish and manage the entity’s reputation: working with the board and senior staff, the CEO is responsible for building and maintaining a positive reputation for the entity, one that engenders trust and credibility;
  • establish and manage relationships: the board and CEO are responsible for establishing and managing communications and collaborations with other organisations (including the departments with which the entity is affiliated, other organisations in the same or related fields of work and community representatives) in order to deliver outcomes effectively and efficiently;
  • deliver organisational impact: working with the board, senior staff and key stakeholders, the CEO is responsible for seeking feedback about the entity’s impact and making adjustments to the entity’s plans, design, culture, relationships and risk management to increase the positive impact of the entity;
  • manage compliance and reporting: working with the board and senior staff, the CEO is responsible for ensuring compliance with relevant legislation, including enabling legislation, the Public Administration Act 2004, and other legislation governing use of public funds and records;
  • manage risk: working with the board and with senior staff, the CEO is responsible for identifying and managing the risk that the entity will be unable to deliver outcomes as a consequence of resource constraints, unexpected situations, changes in the operating environment, damage to reputation, or inability to attract and retain an appropriately skilled workforce; and
  • provide authoritative advice: working with senior staff, the CEO is responsible for providing accurate and timely advice to the board, minister, department, entity staff and other stakeholders about the entity, the field in which it works, and emerging risks and challenges.

In addition to these key responsibilities, CEOs need to maintain a focus on continuing their own personal and professional development as public sector leaders. Some of the options they may wish to consider are developing their professional networks, participating in professional associations (e.g. IPAA and ANZSOG), mentoring and coaching.