My Career: Patrick Murphy

By pwpro posted 29-07-2013 11:30


Putting experience to work

By Brian McCormack

Patrick Murphy, Director Infrastructure Services at Scenic Rim Council, played a key role in blending the cultures and systems of three different councils into one harmonious whole. He explains how many years of acquired skills and training helped him in the process.

What got you into the public works sector?

I wanted to be a vet because I grew up in a farming area near Ipswich, but I found I had an aversion to blood, so I looked at other ideas. My dad was a railway ganger, but I didn’t relish the Ipswich railway scene at that time, so I did engineering at Queensland Uni. My first ‘vac-prac’ was at the old Moreton Shire and I loved it. But there wasn’t a job there after uni, so I went into water supply at the Department of Local Government. It was great experience – I went everywhere from Brisbane to Thursday Island, but gained my best experience in Gladstone which was becoming a major industrial town and bristled with water supply challenges. 

Where did you go from there?
An engineer in former Livingstone Shire passed away and I was sent to Yeppoon for a “quick stint” as water engineer. I told my wife Susan it would be a short beach holiday – which she hasn’t forgotten, because we stayed 13 years! It was a good place to raise two sons though, and after a few years the Engineering Director’s job fell vacant. So I scrambled to get the necessary LG ticket and got the gig. It taught me that qualifications and study are vital to career progression in public works. But Yeppoon was a learning curve itself – with scant LG experience, we delivered a water treatment plant for the Capricorn Coast and laid many kilometres of sewerage mains in unserviced areas. A prime challenge was making funding applications to the state government.

Why did you leave idyllic Yeppoon?
Just as our sons needed to be closer to universities, I was offered the Director of Works & Technical Services job at Boonah Shire. So I grabbed it, and was really pleased I had done an MBA in Yeppoon because it was essential, in my view, in the role. I also got more involved with IPWEA, which was rewarding professionally. I became President of IPWEA Qld, joined the national board and helped to build closer ties with branches all over the state. I also got involved with some major projects like the Queensland urban drainage manual, the review of Queensland streets and the local roads manuals. Then, in 2008, an amalgamation changed my role and, yet again, I was grateful for skills I had gleaned along the way, because I certainly needed them. 

Skills to meet what sort of challenge exactly? 
We had to form a new outfit (Scenic Rim Regional Council) from the whole of Boonah Shire, half of Beaudesert Shire and part of Ipswich City Council. As Director of Infrastructure Services, I had to forge a new asset management plan against a backdrop of two different cultures and operating systems. You inevitably get competing views in that scenario, so it calls for a lot of mediation and implementation decisions. There were lots of good ideas, but not all could be implemented. So my task was to evaluate the input, demonstrate how different options would deliver the appropriate outcomes, and then get everyone on side with the best course of action. Not everyone can adapt though, so there were a few partings along the way. But now, five years on, we have a very harmonious culture, and whereas our financial performance assessment was categorised as ‘weak’ to start with, we are now categorised as ‘strong’.

Any advice to aspirant young Works Directors?
Be comfortable with your own personality and use it to harness other people’s strengths. No one expects you to know everything, so show a little vulnerability by seeking opinions and people will trust you more. Never stop learning. In this business you need all the knowledge you can get, via degrees, certificates, MBAs, and last but by no means least, through the valuable resources of the IPWEA. Most importantly, never stop ‘touching the dirt’. We all spend a lot of time planning, funding and designing, but the big moment is when you actually build it. That’s the time to get out there and share the reality of the creation with your team!

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