How we got here: Winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award look back over their civil service careers

"Take the time to develop the skills to progress – it’s not a sign of failure if you’re not getting promoted every 18 months": three CSA winners share tips and fond memories from their decades in the civil service
Civil Service Awards 2021

By CSW

27 Jan 2022

David Gott, Department for Transport  

 

What was your first job in the civil service? 

I took telephone enquiries relating to driving test bookings – test date changes, missing applications, etc. All applications were handled by post in those days – no internet, no computer on my desk; just a telephone and a notebook. If we couldn’t resolve the query ourselves we needed to “take a message” and pass it on to the test “booking clerks”. Also, there were no theory driving tests in those days – just the practical test. 

 

And your favourite? 

Barring my current role (my managers may be reading this!), I would say my four years as a member of the Joint Sponsor Team for the Crossrail project. I was working for DfT, but based in the offices of Transport for London, working with people from both organisations. The purpose was to present a united joint sponsors’ front to the project’s delivery organisation, Crossrail Ltd. Apart from the thrill of being involved in such a major infrastructure project, I also learnt that other public sector organisations aren’t so different to mine... 

  

Describe your civil service career in three words... 

Successful, varied, rewarding. 

  

What makes a good civil servant?   

Someone who is pragmatic and open to new ideas, with good attention to detail. They need to be willing to work with others. An interest in the political landscape is advantageous, but they must remain impartial so cannot support any political activities. 

  

What is the best advice you've been given by a colleague at work? 

Not advice as such, but I spent a few months working with a consultant with whom I led the procurement of a Framework contract. I saw him giving verbal feedback to successful and unsuccessful bidders in a refreshingly frank and open way. I learnt a lot from that experience. 

  

Now that you've moved up the civil service career ladder, what advice would you give to younger officials hoping to progress? 

There is no substitute for experience, so don’t be in too big a hurry to climb the ladder. Consolidate your skills at each level before you start looking for the next promotion opportunity. Identify what skills you might be lacking for where you want to progress to, and find ways to develop those skills so that you’re qualified when the right opportunity comes along. 

  

Did you ever leave or consider leaving the civil service? If you did, what drew you back? If you stayed, what made you stay? 

I’m very proud of my long service and have never been at the point where I thought I would be better off somewhere else. The wonderful thing about the civil service is that you can apply to move to a completely different department if you want to, without leaving the civil service. Having said that, I am a DfT person through-and-through. 

 


 

Robert Buckley, Home Office (Border Force) 

 

What was your first job in the civil service? 

Clerical assistant, Custom House, London. Processing import entry paperwork and mollifying impatient shipping agents. Aged 16 years and three weeks, straight from school – had to grow up VERY quickly.

    

And your favourite? 

Impossible to just select just one – have been on mobile response teams, investigation teams, clerical teams and laterally anti-smuggling teams based in Dover. Each area of work could be exciting, challenging and gratifying – I could apply same description to some of the colleagues within each discipline! 

 

Describe your civil service career in three words... 

Longer than expected! 

 

What makes a good civil servant?  

Without sounding cliched I would say the ability to treat people as people, whatever the circumstances.   

 

What is the best advice you've been given by a colleague at work? 

Work is important but family comes first. 

 

Now that you've moved up the civil service career ladder, what advice would you give to younger officials hoping to progress? 

Try a variety of jobs; don’t be afraid to try something new; be comfortable in your choice of job and grade. 

 

Did you ever leave or consider leaving the civil service? If you did, what drew you back? If you stayed, what made you stay? 

I’ve been fortunate in the variety of jobs and the opportunities that I’ve had – never felt the need to leave. 

 


 

Jacqueline Byrne, Department for Education 

 

What was your first job in the civil service?  

I was a clerical officer at the Ministry of Fisheries and Food (MAFF), my first job was in an investigations unit which supported a group of investigation officers (all retired high ranking police officers) – main duties included proofreading statements, preparing court papers and organising their diaries. 

 

And your favourite?  

Probably my current role as a delivery team leader for the Academies programme – I have worked in this area for nearly 10 years and I’ve seen the programme evolve. It’s all about the drive to ensure all children have the opportunity to go to a good school that can improve their life chances. 

 

Describe your civil service career in three words...  

Rewarding, varied, demanding! 

 

What makes a good civil servant? 

Integrity, commitment and flexibility. Be a good team player, support your colleagues and understand that you are serving the government of the day and delivering its priorities. 

 

What is the best advice you've been given by a colleague at work?  

I remember being really de-moralised when my first draft report as an HEO in the education department was returned to me covered in red pen (everything was handwritten in those days!). My Grade 7 sat me down and explained that that it didn’t mean it was wrong and that my draft had helped him focus his arguments and suggestions for the final report because I had given him the information he needed. I’ve never forgotten that and have applied it myself with new, inexperienced colleagues. 

 

Now that you've moved up the civil service career ladder, what advice would you give to younger officials hoping to progress? 

It can be too easy to be dazzled by the outgoing, highflyers – you can learn a lot from your colleagues, wherever they are in their career. Don’t underestimate what a quiet, long serving junior member of the team can contribute – their knowledge and experience can be invaluable. Be patient, take the time to understand and develop the skills to progress – it’s not a sign of failure if you’re not getting promoted every 18 months! 

 

Did you ever leave or consider leaving the civil service? If you did, what drew you back? If you stayed, what made you stay?

 No, although I still find myself amazed that I’ve been in the civil service since 1985 – I joined initially because I wanted to try an ‘office’ job, little did I know that I was embarking on such a varied, challenging and at times frustrating career! 

 

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