“Opinionated”, “abrasive” and “intolerant” of those less able and committed’: these were the words my placement superviser used to describe me as a trainee. They came to mind when I was recently invited to share some snippets of advice with new entrants to the civil service fast stream.

Once I had written down my peals of wisdom for tomorrow’s high flyers, it occurred to me that what I had said would also apply to aspiring managers and those seeking top jobs in any part of the public sector.

‘There are those with five years’ experience and those who have one year’s experience five times over. It’s not hard to work out which is the more valuable’

Why did I think the advice would be the same when most aspiring managers would not consider themselves “high flyers” and most managers don’t start out aiming to be directors and chief executives?

I believe that in the current climate of reorganisations, downsizing and outsourcing, my advice would apply not just to the young, over-confident and highly ambitious, but to any manager of any age and at any stage in their career, who wants to continue to be employable.

For some this may mean applying for “their own job”, albeit with a new title in the new stricture. For others it may mean being viewed as a valuable resource in a service to be outsourced. And for others it may mean that the arrival of a new chief executive with a very different vision and way of doing things is an opportunity, not a threat.

Top tips for career progress:

  • A career path only looks like a straight line when looking back.
  • There are those with five years’ experience and those who have one year’s experience five times over. It’s not hard to work out which is the more valuable.
  • Experience and professional competence make you a valuable asset but don’t mean you will be a good manager − that’s a different set of skills.
  • Management skills are transferable and these days you need to be prepared to work outside your comfort zone, in areas in which you have no professional background or expertise. This is where transferable skills come in.
  • Interdepartmental and inter-agency projects offer experience that will definitely advance your career.
  • Don’t lose your values on the way. Every time I update my CV I restate my values and how they have informed my work to date, as well as how they would inform the way I’d work in the post I was seeking. It’s what makes me ‘me’.
  • Don’t focus on the next job, focus on the one after that − then you will know what the next post should be (sometimes you have to move sideways to move up).

My superviser’s description of me was one that even today colleagues would recognise. As a trainee these were not qualities that would endear me to my more experienced fellow workers, yet the same qualities in a senior manager are not necessarily a disadvantage. After all, you want your director to be clear about what needs to be done; being intolerant of poor practice and incompetence is no bad thing.

I don’t think I would have made it as a director if I had not been opinionated, with high expectations of my staff. On the other hand, if I had been a little less abrasive on occasions, I might have made it to chief executive.