An manager looks back on her career with quiet contentment and ahead with great optimism
As she moves from her current position as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Crawford School of Public Policy to act in a newly created role as its School Manager, Cecily Stewart sees that “careers reflect the opportunities you create and find, while the goals you set and the challenges you face see you grow immeasurably. The people around you provide the greatest insight into how you can best contribute to your working environment. Listening carefully helps you through even the toughest times.”
Cecily joined Crawford School in 2011 and pitched into the excitement of being part of the University’s public policy portal development team. “I’ve been so fortunate to work closely with an extraordinary group. With the visionary and constant leadership of Professor Tom Kompas, we’ve lifted the profile of Crawford School among a range of influential stakeholders including the Australian Public Service.”
The Crawford communications team ran nearly 250 events in 2012, a record year that involved 20,000 people coming through the School. Current plans feature expanding this country’s premier public policy gateway to world-class research and education.
Cecily understands that satisfying careers take persistent courage, reflection and optimism. She views change as a positive. “Every experience you encounter along the way affects your choices, your capabilities and what others value in you. Nothing is wasted. It helps fine tune what interests you, and importantly, what you don’t want to do. Passions and personality, built over time, create the path to a successful life.”
Now, having worked in universities for almost two decades, Cecily knows they provide a rich vein of options, “You can choose a career that focuses on a particular area, or, as I’ve chosen to do, develop a breadth of expertise across interrelated areas.”
Her successful career had a somewhat inauspicious beginning however. In the early 1990s Cecily completed a communications degree at the University of Canberra, as one of the first generation of HECS graduates. “I burst into the real world, full of energy, but it was into a time of ‘the recession we had to have’ and I suffered the disillusionment of no jobs.”
Undefeated, she then tried a move to Melbourne and a graduate diploma from the University of Melbourne.
The pivotal moment came when she saw an administrative assistant position advertised at the Conservatorium of Music. “It was a very beautiful place to have a first job – sitting in the front office of a heritage building with music all around me. I treasured handling the student-composed pieces; as I read their assignments I’d imagine how some day these young people would go on to write music that would fill the world with beauty.”
Several years working at the University of Melbourne then followed as she was promoted through the ranks. “I enjoyed trying different roles; gaining knowledge all the way as I headed towards what I liked and moved on from experiences I didn’t.”
Cecily believes that seeking new challenges doesn’t always have to be a linear progression or make sense from the current context: “I believe it’s ok to do what feels right for you in the moment.”
An example of one such new direction was Cecily’s venture into a private sector think tank in Melbourne. “It was an incredibly valuable eye opener into the high end of business and the boardrooms of Victoria that were working for an Australia that could be competitive within the Asian marketplace. I gained so much from observing and learning from people who are now leaders in industry, the up-and-comers.”
She also added advanced copy-editing from RMIT to her qualifications even though she “had no immediate use for these new skills. In hindsight, she explains “I’ve used its training in attention to detail – whatever the shapes are on the page – throughout my career, in not only communications roles but also in HR, finance and research development.”
Travel too, feeds into the mix of valuable experiences. Cecily’s many trips to Asia have provided “an essential sense of perspective and enjoyment. It’s often been in these step-back times that I’ve had the space to make important career decisions.”
Cecily remembers very fondly the five years she spent at the Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) in the collegiate environment created, largely, by Professors Peter Drahos, Hilary Charlesworth, Valerie Braithwaite and John Braithwaite who taught her so much about leadership: “John once explained that HC ‘Nugget’ Coombs had always led from behind, and ‘that was as good a place as any to lead from.’”
She was also highly attuned to the way in which Hilary and Val – and so many other women there – “did such a stylish and wonderful job of being great mothers and caring for their families – so much so, I decided to give it a go myself; happily with two excellent deliverables!” Cecily has twin sons.
After balancing family and part-time work for several years, Cecily secured her milestone management position in the School of International Political and Strategic Studies as its first School Manager.
“ANU has really changed as a workplace for professional staff, particularly over the past five years. There are now so many real and exciting opportunities for senior administrators to move into management roles.
”It is a real credit to the vision and commitment of this University to deliberately develop professional pathways that retain critical knowledge banks and extend the former limited career options for administrators.”
Careers can also be shaped by random events such as the “random conversation” that led Cecily to Crawford School. “It has been a deeply positive experience which has given me the space to be passionate and engaged. I work with a school-wide team that is dedicated to being the best in research, teaching and policy engagement. There’s an optimism here that drives us through everyday difficulties.”
The picturesque location of Crawford School, overlooking the lake and beyond to the Brindabellas, and the beautiful architecture of the building itself, is endlessly motivating. “I sometimes take a break outside to reconnect with the larger picture, to put the challenges going on inside, back into perspective.”
Cecily understands the value of mentoring. “To take on each new step forward, everyone needs someone to believe in them. You feel able to take risks in a supportive environment, and that sense of support can come in both very simple and deeply powerful ways.”
For Cecily, the formal supervisory structure at ANU and the lasting relationships it has created have been invaluable. “I’ve had men and women supervise me and every single one of them has been profoundly important to me and my career. They have been my mentors, my inspiration, my challengers. I owe a great deal to these people.”
With a profound interest in possibilities for people and ideas, Cecily uses her management positions to take an active and genuine role in developing the individual aspirations of her staff. “I recently had a highly skilled and talented member of our team share with me her ‘eureka’ moment – that, after several years of work and raising a family, she has found exactly what she now wants to do. While her dream to complete further studies may take her from our team and beyond ANU, it’s wonderful to be involved in vibrant change. It’s so special to share important moments with people you respect.”
As for her work-life balance the “juggle with a young family goes on! I try to focus on finding great things in the moment, wherever I am. So if I’m at work, I focus on work and the great people around me. When I’m with my boys, I’m with them. Hitting a ball around a tennis court with them is the greatest release after a big day.”
On reflection, Cecily sees the career environment at ANU as providing the complete picture. “If you are willing to work hard on what is in front of you, connect with those who surround you and not focus too much on where you might rather be, I think you can end each day feeling contented. Then, when you see an opportunity that truly interests you, go after it with everything you have, knowing that you leave behind the very best you could achieve.”
Her new role as Crawford’s acting School Manager will call on all her previous experiences and take her places she’s never been: “I couldn’t dream of a better place to be at this time of my life.”