Learning is forever: Lead with passion, apply your skills and dig deep

How the journey started

When Priscilla Stevens-Guiney landed her first external board role as Non-Executive Director for The Ecological Society of Australia last year, her passion and her skill-set met with equal ferocity.  “My strengths are leading big change, implementing IT initiatives, communicating change so people understand and governance, but my passion — my core desire — is conservation and protected area management”, Priscilla shared.

Her journey started out as an Apprentice Horticulturalist with Parks Victoria in 1993 that went on to see her become a Ranger, Team Leader and Ranger in Charge before joining the Department of National Parks, Sports, Recreation and Racing. Then, seven years ago, when Campbell Newman was the Premier of Queensland, he looked heavily at the public sector and identified that there needed to be a staff reduction. Like many others, Priscilla found herself redundant after working for the Department for seven years.

“I took the redundancy and it gave me an opportunity to stop and reflect. I could go back to where I came from and wait until jobs opened up again, or I could make a change. I had this bucket list that I was certain would take 12 months to achieve. Three months later, I had ticked everything off my list and thought maybe it’s time to see what job opportunities were available.”

Using your skills

She was offered a Senior Administration Officer role with CQUniversity in Rock Hampton and decided to make the transition into a new career field. “I knew nothing about the sector, but I was a student once".

What I’ve learnt is that it’s not so much where you are working, but your skill-set and how you apply them. Once you understand the value you bring, you can apply your skills almost anywhere,” Priscilla explained.

Today, Priscilla is the Director for the Office of the Vice-President for Global Development. She provides senior executive and advisory support across a range of strategic and operational matters, leading and managing critical projects, which impact the Office of the Vice-President. “I also provide leadership in advancing the strategic goals of the University through the management of commercial enterprises, including the management of finances and human resources of the commercial services and businesses… My job finds me meandering through various meetings, project teams and committees as they come to fruition, and when they have reached a certain point and don’t require my detail, I step out.”

Her involvement has been an incubator for great learning and great enjoyment, she confides. “As the Director, I see how conversations happen at a board level, how meetings are conducted, how decisions are made and how good governance takes place at the strategic and operational level. I’ve learnt the language, the process, the due diligence, who is the audience and the importance of clear and inclusive communication.”

Board Experience 

Priscilla also has experience as Chair of the Sugar CRM Advisory Committee, Treasurer for the Rural Fire Brigade and Committee member of the Business Continuity Planning Committee, Crisis Management Control Group, StaffNet Control Group, Livingstone Shire Council Byfield Community Advisory Committee.  

Pursuing passion and finding a mentor

A yearning to step back into the conservation space and to give back to community had Priscilla considering her options. My supervisor at the University recognised how my involvement on Boards would not only benefit internally, but the rewards would be external too and supported me to complete the AICD course, which gave me great insights.”

Then Priscilla started talking to people about their own journeys to the Boardroom. “Some had been part of a club or organsiation for a long time and there was a natural progression to the Board. Others had networks and connections and opportunities arose from there. Others saw opportunities in the public forum and applied.”

Priscilla started to apply for positions she saw advertised, but quickly learnt that the application process for a career job was very different to a Board position. “It requires a completely different narrative and approach, and therefore CV, which I didn’t realise at the time.” This instigated the search for a mentor, someone who resonated with Priscilla’s’ personality and individuality, but also someone who could see and articulate her journey and long-term vision.

The importance of learning

“It took eight months of solid work with my mentor to land my role with The Ecological Society of Australia. They’re an incredible organisation supported by an inspiring team of people. I am particularly enjoying the opportunity to create something new… They reached out for assistance in philanthropic activities and I am embracing what that looks like for them and what impact is possible… It’s about setting the framework and bringing other people on the journey as it morphs from a plan to positive outcomes for everybody.”

Priscilla admits that she underestimated the rapid learning of the business when she first joined the Board.

“You get presented your papers, you have the discussion happening around you and naturally people understand the situation. I probably miscalculated the time required to catch up and stay abreast of the constant conversations, but that’s ok, I’m learning. I’m constantly learning.”

Understand why you want to be on a board

“You have to really want to do this,” Priscilla advises. “If you think this a whim or something you might like to do, I would encourage you to look deeper and really understand why you want to do this.

It's time consuming. It’s not just turning up every month or couple of months. You have to commit and do your research and understand what’s going on. It’s about sustained energy. People are relying on the Board’s direction and decisions so it’s not something you should take lightly.”

If you’re starting out, Priscilla couldn’t speak more highly of engaging the support of a mentor who understands you, your long-term vision and who can devise the steps to get there. “It might be a supervisor, a work college or someone who provides it as a service. You need someone who can help you plan because I think you can potentially waste a lot of time figuring it out yourself and you end of scatter applying instead of target applying for positions.”

Next Steps

Next steps for Priscilla is more exposure and experience on Boards to expedite her learning. But her long-term vision is very clear; it always has been. “Eventually I would like to return to Parks Victoria and be on their Board. That’s what I would love.”

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