Leadership Fundamentals: Shane Fitzsimmons AFSM

Out-going NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons AFSM.

Shane Fitzsimmons AFSM is one of New South Wales most trusted and respected public servants. As NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner he was the public face of the Government’s response to the recent horrific bushfire season. Before beginning his new role heading up Resilience NSW, Shane spoke with Ursula Brennan from Deliotte and shared his personal story, his thoughts on leadership and the importance he places on public service as part of IPAA NSW ‘In Conversation Series’.

As Commissioner, Shane led an organisation of 73,000 ‘extraordinary men and women’. Ninety-nine percent are volunteers, with just under 1,000 salaried staff. Together they service, support and protect the NSW community.

Shane is often asked how he manages volunteers — volunteers who can come and go.

‘What I say to people is, “If you want to actually practise and immerse yourself in what is real about leadership and how to get the most out of people, spend some time in a volunteer organisation”.

Because the value of a volunteer organisation when it comes to leadership is volunteers can very quickly tell you to “get stuffed” and move onto something if they’re not valued, if they’re not respected, if they don’t feel included, if they don’t feel a sense of purpose and belonging — all those sorts of things.

So when we talk about leadership in an employment sense or in a business or in a public sector, people want to be involved, they want to be included, they want to be part of a team, they want decisions and actions being taken.’

He believes there are a handful of traits that form the fundamentals in leadership.

‘I think authenticity trumps everything…

…People accept you for your strengths and weaknesses as long as you understand and accept your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t try to hide behind them or bluff your way through.

I think empathy is critical.

I think respect and mutual respect is absolutely fundamental.’

Shane argues that leaders have to care about all their people: ‘who they are, what they are, why they’re doing it and how they’re working together’. And that leaders have got to care about ‘what it is that collection of people are trying to do and trying to achieve and who they’re trying to do it for’.

He recalled his mother’s phrase that ‘manners cost you nothing but the lack of them can cost you everything’. Translated into a leadership world this fundamentally comes down to mutual respect.

‘It’s that capacity to have genuine and sincere mutual respect which then lies across everything: authenticity will come through, empathy will come through, your ability to make decisions and take action will be done respectfully.

And if you’re properly caring — for everybody and everything that’s going on in your agency — then that will shine through in a very respectful way.

That’s what I believe are the fundamentals to effective leadership and what I’ve gleaned over the decades.’

In a wide-ranging interview, Shane also provided insights into managing organisational change, successfully engaging with community and political leaders, as well as his plans for the newly created Resilience NSW.

A video of the full interview with Shane Fitzsimmons is available to IPAA NSW members who registered for the ‘In Conversation’ event. Other IPAA NSW members and individual members of other IPAA Divisions may access the interview for a small fee by contacting IPAA NSW directly.