Dr Geoff Allan’s career stands at what he calls the intersection between what he’s good at and what he knows well. With a strong natural interest in the built environment and extensive experience in public policy management, Geoff’s unique fusion of interests and knowledge has allowed him to thrive in his new position as Chief Executive Officer of Austroads, an association of Australian and New Zealand transport agencies.
Geoff developed an interest in the built environment while attending schools on Brisbane’s south side. “I had some fantastic geography teachers who made me realise that cities are not just an accumulation of buildings and other businesses, they serve an economic and social function,” he says.
This early interest led him to complete a degree in Town Planning at Queensland University. After a short stint as a town planner, he was catapulted into the world of public policy – a calling he says has allowed him to affect a more widespread and systematic change in public works than he otherwise would have been able to.
Some of the roles Geoff’s held include Director of Strategic and Legal Policy at Queensland Environmental Protection Agency, Executive Director of Operational Support services at Queensland Corrective Services and most recently, nearly six years as Chief Operating Officer at the National Transport Commission.
Underlying his work in public policy is his strong interest in effective management strategy – public policy management being the topic he completed his PhD in back in 2005. While he considers his PhD one of his proudest career achievements, Geoff says a more significant outcome from this study is how it shaped his ability to work with a cross section of government and industry to get results and, more importantly, “get the balance right”.
“One unique challenge in the public sector that is very different to the private sector is that not all interaction is voluntary for mutual benefit. When you’re in government you are trading off things like ‘Who is regulated?’ ‘Who benefits from the regulation?’ And it’s important to get the balance right,” explains Geoff.
Citing inspiration from great leaders like Dwight Eisenhower, John Monash and former Australian of the Year Michelle Simmons, Geoff’s management style is people-centric with a focus on continual learning, facing challenges head on and getting the best results from what he says are “a lot of good, smart people with skills and expertise in the public works and infrastructure industry”.
It’s with this ‘people first’ attitude that he pays tribute to many individuals with whom he has worked – people such as Queensland Department of Communities Director-General Clare O’Connor, former commissioner of Corrective Services Kelvin Anderson and Austroads Chair and Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads Director-General Neil Scales. “I’m not an expert in infrastructure by any means, but I like to help the people who are achieving results,” he says.
Powering positive change at Austroads
Seeing real world outcomes can be difficult for those working on the policy side knee-deep in systems, processes and practices. But it was while observing the results of his own work that Geoff had the greatest ‘ah ha’ moment of his career. That realisation came while working at the Department of Transport and Main Roads in Queensland, where he was instrumental in setting up the Local Roads Alliance with the Local Government Association of Queensland.
“I started to realise that it’s not just policies and ideas that gets things done, it’s working with people to get them implemented,” he says. “At the Department of Main Roads, I could see how the Local Roads Alliance was actually making decisions about spending money that had a best outcome regardless of who was putting money into the pot.”
Another of his major accomplishments was his part in working with Kelvin Anderson in a top-to-bottom reorganisation of the corrective services system in Queensland that drove up the performance of the industry – including outcomes such as better completion rates of sentences and a reduction in reoffending rates.
In his current role, Geoff is committed to playing his part in tackling what he sees as some of the biggest challenges facing the Australian and global public works industries: “the need to address sustainability concerns and the incorporation of new technologies”. To that end he is a big advocate of professional memberships such as those offered by IPWEA and Austroads.
“On our agenda this year at Austroads are three big initiatives that I think will make a big difference in the safety and efficacy of our national roads. One is the development of the Austroads Technical Specifications – a national approach to getting consistency on approximately 150-200 standards regarding roads. The second is on implementing a nationally consistent approach for traffic management. And the third is on implementing a nationally consistent approach to road assets,” says Geoff.
With his professionalism and commitment to making the decisions that matter, there’s no doubt Geoff will bring about positive change on the topics driving these initiatives and many more facing the public works industry.