FPL Advisory’s Communications Analyst Catriona McNaughton outlines the common roles and responsibilities within a Ministerial Office.
The inner workings of a Minister’s office can remain out of sight even for those employed in the public sector. Understanding the roles and responsibilities within these offices is critical to ensuring the efficient and appropriate flow of information through engagement channels.
The five key staff roles in a typical Ministerial Office are:
1. Chief of Staff
The Chief of Staff leads the political staff in providing advice and support to the Minister and generally manage the office. They are usually the Minister’s first and last stop for critical information when making a decision and hold the most responsibility for progressing the Minister’s interests. This means they are usually time poor and often bombarded from external sources. Engaging with a Chief of Staff should follow similar principles to engaging with a Minister: clear, direct, concise and most importantly, should solve rather than create problems.
2. Policy Advisors
Working with the Chief of Staff, the role of policy officers is to assess policy options (those developed within government bureaucracy and from external sources) and advise the Minister on options to proceed. Depending on the size of the office and complexity of portfolios, policy advisors may be divided by seniority and/or subject area. They have more capacity to focus on their areas of interest and so can be a great initial point of contact into a Ministerial Office. This means that more time and detail can be put into one-on-one engagement, providing opportunities to align outcomes. Preparation and a clear direction in engagements are vital to maximising future opportunities.
3. Media Advisors
Media Advisors act as the gateway between the office and the media and play a key role in communicating the Minister’s role, priorities and achievements as part of the Government to the public. This means they are responsible for developing narrative for positive media stories (such as how best to present events and announcements) as well as for responding to, clarifying and diverting negative media. Media advisors often work with organisations following the successful outcome of a project, for instance, to plan a grant announcement.
4. Executive Assistant and other administrative roles
A number of roles support the ongoing operation of a Minister’s office which can include Executive Assistants and administrative assistants. Given the operational nature of these roles, they may have limited interaction in the public sphere however they are vital to the operation of the office and therefore critical to any engagement.
5. Departmental Liaison Officers
Departmental Liaison Officers work between the Ministerial Office (usually with the Policy Officers) and the relevant Department and agencies to ensure continuity in policy outcomes. These roles are public servants on secondment from the department as opposed to political staff and may stay in the office even after a change of government. These roles differ from the rest of the office as they are responsible to the Department as opposed to being employed by the Minister. However, effective collaboration and teamwork with the political staff is key to a smooth and well-functioning office.
The individuals within a Minister’s office work long hours and deal with a vast range of competing priorities. Recognising the difference between harassing a Chief of Staff on their mobile phone and an effective and detailed conversation with a junior policy advisor is the foundation for developing goodwill with any office. Ensuring you understand the roles and specific needs of different individuals and preparing appropriately is vital to effective communication and to developing ongoing relationships.
Catriona McNaughton is a Communications Analyst at FPL Advisory.
FPL Advisory is a team of specialists resolving risks and creating opportunities with respect to government. We work with public sector and corporate clients to execute strategies for owning and managing change.