Q&A with Dame Margaret Bazley

1 November 2012

The former chief nurse on how nursing helped underpin her top civil service career. She also shares her leadership philosophy and her love of rugby and gardening.

Job Title: Chairperson, Canterbury Regional Council, Registrar, Pecuniary Interests of Parliamentarians

Q Where and when did you train?

A (Then) Auckland Mental Hospital RPN 1959 and Thames Hospital RGN, RON 1961.

Q Other qualifications/professional nursing roles and honours?

A Diploma of Nursing, (then) Post Graduate School, Wellington – 1965, Post Graduate Diploma of Health Administration, Massey University – 1980, member of the Nurses and Midwives Board, member of Nursing Services Committee (then NZ Nurses Association), chair of Nursing Education and Research Foundation and first member of Nurses Union. Numerous articles for Kai Tiaki and author of The Nurse and the Psychiatric Patient.

Order of NZ (2012), Dame Companion (1999), Life Member NZ Nurses Organisation and Distinguished Fellow NZ Institute of Director. Patron of NZ Nurses War Memorial Fund, NZ College of Mental Health Nurses & NZ Nurses Education and Research Foundation

Q When and/or why did you decide to become a nurse?

A When I was at school, there were limited options for women in a small town.

Q What was your nursing career before joining the civil service?

A Ward Sister, Tokanui Hospital, Assistant Matron, Seacliff Group of Hospitals, Dunedin, 1965-73 Matron, Sunnyside Hospital, Christchurch, Senior Public Health Nurse, Auckland District Health Office, Deputy Matron in Chief, Auckland Hospital Board Chief Nursing Office, Waikato Hospital Board. 1978-84 Director, Division of Nursing, Department of Health.

Q Share a moment when you felt particularly proud to be a nurse?

A Every day of my career as a nurse, and particularly, when I saw people benefit from my initiatives.

Q Outline your state services career.

A 1984-87 Commissioner, State Services Commission, 1987-88 Deputy Chairwoman, State Services Commission, 1988-93 Secretary for Transport, 1993-2001 Director-General of Social Welfare

2001 Acting Chief Executive, Work and Income, 2007- Registrar Pecuniary Interests of Parliamentarians, 2007-2009 Member, Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, 2002-2008 Chair of Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, 2004-2008 Commissioner for Inquiry into Police Conduct, 2001-2011 Member of Waitangi Tribunal, 1999-2011 Chair of New Zealand Fire Service Commission, 2010 Chair of Environment Canterbury.

Q Was nursing a good grounding for your subsequent public service career? If so, what nursing skills and experience were the most useful?

A As a nurse, I developed leadership and management skills that have underpinned my performance throughout my career. In my nursing career, I learnt the value of taking the opportunity to educate the patient as a means of health promotion. I have carried this approach into the various fields that have worked when I have developed a proactive approach to the public policy issues of the day, such as the road toll and welfare dependence.

Q What do you think are the characteristics of a good leader? And are they intrinsic or can they be learned?

A One’s leadership style reflects the sort of person that you are but skills are learnt and developed. At the heart of leadership is the way a leader treats those who work to them. A good leader frees and supports staff to achieve more than they think they can. A good leader does this by giving staff clarity of direction and making sure they know what is expected of them. The vision is clearly and simply articulated and the timeline for the work is stated.

I take care to appoint staff who are visionary, people-friendly, and who meet deadlines. I define what has to be done and the time frame for achieving it. I then give those who work for me the space and the right to get on with the work they were appointed to do, and I tell them (and others) when they have done it well. There’s no room for a good leader to be an egotist – I make sure those who have done the work get the recognition.

Crucially, a good leader provides strength, knowledge and skill to make the system work so that staff can deliver. Poor systems, whether they are IT, financial management, or any other systems, can frustrate even the most talented people.

I aim to create an organisation that encourages staff to be inspired and passionate about their work. I try to impart strength, certainty, and the view that anything can be achieved if you apply yourself. I’ve always been amazed at how the most unlikely people flourish when they know their boss will back them.

I like people and I pay attention to all the people who work for me. That means knowing and remembering their names – as a start! – and being in touch with them when the big things happen in their lives. It also means putting aside the in-tray and going to the events staff ask you to. I try to create a workplace where they are treated as valuable people – not cogs in a machine – a workplace that they like to come to.

Q What advice would you give to a nurse wanting to follow in your footsteps and climb the leadership ladder?

A Embrace every opportunity that presents itself.

Q What do you do to try and keep fit, healthy, happy, and balanced?

A I separate work and my time. I am addicted to walking as a means of keeping fit. Gardening is my great love, and I have a large garden, providing me with lots of exercise, a continual supply of fresh vegetables, and flowers for myself and friends. I enjoy travel, fine food, shows, and rugby.

Q What is your favourite way to spend a Sunday?

A Working in the garden on a sunny day and having an evening meal with friends.

Q Favourite movies?

A Bambi, Lassie Come Home – the first films that I saw as a child. Margin Call, which was the last film that I saw and thousands of excellent films in between.

Q Number one on your “bucket list” of things to do?

A A tour later this year of South America, including an All Blacks game and visits to Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands.