'Changes at the top of departments always present exciting opportunities': Attorney General's Office DG Shehzad Charania reflects on the 'privilege' of leadership during a challenging year

2020 was a year unlike any other, with the coronavirus pandemic upending the work of government and changing how we live our daily lives. Senior figures from across the civil service tell us how the unprecedented 12 months affected them, and look ahead to 2021
Interim Attorney General's Office DG Shehzad Charania

By Civil Service World

15 Dec 2020


What are you proudest of your department or agency achieving in 2020?

I am proud that the Attorney General’s Office has successfully supported staff wellbeing during the pandemic without any dip in the support we provide to the Law Officers. Our small and very high performing team has pulled together in difficult circumstances. That’s been really evident during the pandemic – across the Office, people have continued to look out for one another, despite having to put in extra effort to do so because we’ve mostly been working from home.

We were fortunate to move to Microsoft Teams just a few weeks before the instruction from the prime minister to work from home.  For a department used to staying in touch with each other, video calls, instant messaging and informal chats using our new technology have been vital. Our move to the virtual office was fairly seamless, something I hope we can repeat when we move to our new physical premises in Petty France next year…

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2020?

For me personally, 2020 has been a big year as I was appointed interim director general in September. Taking on more responsibility for the AGO and its people during the pandemic has been a privilege. Having a second opinion has been crucial when making key decisions, even if the answer you get back is that there is no easy answer… I’m fortunate to have a network of peers and mentors in addition to my brilliant AGO team that I can rely on for advice and guidance, and I have utilised them more than ever this year.

Taking on more responsibility for the AGO and its people during the pandemic has been a privilege.

Another hard part of leadership in 2020 has been remaining visible and accessible in the virtual office. For anyone who visited the AGO before the pandemic, you will know that it is a bustling hive of activity, with informal interaction being the lifeblood of how we get things done. To address the lack of in-person collaboration, we increased the frequency of our virtual all-staff meetings and other regular catch ups. We instituted daily morning meetings with the senior team during the first lockdown to discuss the day ahead and stay in touch with how our colleagues were feeling across the office. Our staff-led groups have made a critical contribution in supporting the Board and staff engagement and wellbeing more generally, while moving all their activities into the virtual environment, from learning and development sessions to social events

On a separate note, in February I took on the role of the National Security Community’s Race Champion. It has been so rewarding and inspiring working with such a brilliant and dedicated team. I’m looking forward to stepping up the effort next year.

What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year?

You may have recently heard the wonderful news that the attorney general is expecting a baby in the new year! That, of course, presents a range of challenges: for the attorney trying to get some sleep while on maternity leave; and for us in getting a new interim AG up to speed. In addition to that, the competition for a new AGO director general will go live in the new year, a new treasury solicitor is likely to be named in January, and a new chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Inspectorate announced in Spring.  Changes at the top of departments always present exciting opportunities, and with all these new roles coming on-line within the space of a few months, it’s a brilliant chance to shape the future direction of these organisations.

People will have to be more creative about celebrating this year. How will you make the festive period on Zoom special?

Well, any parent with a young family knows that the festive period with kids is a special mix, irrespective of any wider context. And with family based all around the world, from Putney to Pune to Perth, we will make sure to eat and drink our way through the Zoom fatigue!


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