An interview with Public Service Medal recipient - Penny Damianakis
Meet Penny Damianakis, one of the Region Managers of Services Australia in Sydney. Ms Damianakis is a leader and innovator in face-to-face customer service delivery in Centrelink and Medicare centres. She is strongly committed to transforming how services are delivered for individuals, especially those who are vulnerable.
Her passion to provide excellent services to vulnerable Australians and her capacity to develop strong community partnerships won her a Public Service Medal (PSM) as part of the 2020 Australia Day Honours. Ms Damianakis took some time out of her busy schedule to meet us in the Campsie service centre.
Tell us about yourself briefly and how you came to join the APS?
I am currently a Region Manager in Sydney for Services Australia. Back in the 90s, I was at university studying psychology. It was quite common or a norm to do the APS entrance exam. I saw that as an opportunity and sat the exam. I was offered a job with the Australian Bureau of Statistics at first and then moved to the then Department of Social Security as a trainee. I was able to utilise my degree in a diverse range of roles and I absolutely loved what I was doing. That passion kept me going and as a result I have stayed in the APS for a long time.
Tell us a bit more about your current role or the role for which you received the PSM? How did you react when you first heard you were receiving this honour? What does receiving this honour mean for you?
The PSM was awarded for consistently demonstrating excellence in leadership. I am really fortunate to have a great team working with me. In Sydney, we have a dense population of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) customers. I spend a lot of time with managers and their teams to understand the communities and their needs. In turn, this gives us an opportunity to know what really impacts our customers’ lives and we can use that insight in the national policy space.
I was so shocked and surprised at first. When it really sank in, I just felt so honoured, particularly as it was for something that I have been so passionate about. I am very grateful to my colleague, Narelle Townsend, for putting together the nomination. For me, I received this honour on behalf of the APS frontline staff. Very often, frontline staff are not recognised for their day to day service, which can be a difficult job. My colleagues feel we receive this honour together and that is really special for me. It is also very emotional for me and my family. Coming from a CALD background myself, being awarded for serving the CALD community just makes it extra special.
Looking back on your APS career so far, what would you say is THE highlight? And what has been the biggest challenge?
This award will have to be one highlight, for sure.
If I think back, a few years ago I worked on an initiative called ‘Local Connections to Work’, here, in Campsie. It was challenging but most rewarding. The initiative was about providing wrap around service to customers, particularly long-term unemployed customers.
During the wrap around process, a team of individuals, connected to the well-being of the person (for example, family members, service providers, agency representatives), collaboratively developed an individual care plan, implemented this plan, and evaluated success over time.
After the initial scepticism, we went on to establish an effective way of working together with all parties and delivered amazing results. One refugee customer was an artist, who painted with a knife. It was unusual, but we connected him with a TAFE course and a non-government organisation further linked him to galleries. He ended up having his paintings exhibited in a gallery. Twelve months later, he dropped off a painting with a thank you card in our office. That really meant a lot to me and our team.
Looking forward, in your view, what can be improved or done differently in the APS to serve the public better? Where do you see yourself in the future APS?
Some of Australia’s legislation and rules are really complex. They are complex for citizens to understand and for our staff to explain. We need to find a way to simplify them and provide a better citizen experience.
The APS has changed a lot. The whole digital experience is changing how we work and what we do, as our customers’ expectations change. Working collaboratively across departments and utilising shared resources facilitates sharing of knowledge and good ideas. We should also learn from international experiences when thinking about finding opportunities to work together.
The APS is full of highly intelligent staff. We need to harness their skills, support them to continue building their capability and find ways to support them to be the best versions of themselves. In turn, they can provide better services to Australians.
For my part, I will continue to use my skills and experience to build a world class service for our citizens, on behalf of the APS.