My brilliant career – Ron Watts

by 01 May 2007

What is your current role?

I hold the position of director, human resources at The Australian National University (ANU) based in Canberra.

What qualifications do you hold?

I have a Bachelor of Business (Curtin), Master of Commerce (Melbourne), Graduate Diploma in Management (Monash) and most recently, a Graduate Certificate in human resources management as part of an in-house program we ran for senior HR staff while I was at Deakin University.

Why did you get into HR?

In the early part of my career I was an industrial relations specialist, mainly in government business enterprises. I spent most of my time in dispute resolution and arbitration on pay and conditions matters. While this was worthwhile and absorbing, I felt at times that if better HR policies and practices existed, then perhaps many of the disputes I was involved in trying to resolve might have been prevented. This led me to think more about people issues from a broader perspective and I developed an interest in general HR management as opposed to simply IR. The passion to solve problems and improve the working life of staff was the same. It was the idea of doing more preventative work that appealed to me then, and indeed now. The simple idea that I can help make people’s work lives better and contribute to the achievement of organisational goals is my driver.

How did you get into HR?

I started in HR somewhat by accident in that when I finished high school I had planned to study science at university and undertake a teaching career. However, I worked on a vacation job as a junior personnel officer and then was offered a position in the personnel branch of the Western Australian Public Service Board. At the time, this was the central HR agency for the WA state government. I enjoyed the work and getting paid and so opted to study part time. I then moved to the industrial relations branch as a research clerk and then junior industrial officer and so on.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Adding value in a senior strategic HR role or in a corporate services role that includes HR.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

I have been blessed to have had many. Most of these relate to significant new challenges around new roles I have taken on. Thisincludes moving from an IR role into a general HR management role at Australia Post, to becoming the HR director at Deakin University in Victoria, and of course my exciting new role at the ANU. These appointments aside, making a difference for many staff in the organisations I have worked has been the most satisfying high for me.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

Of course you need a range of technical and management or commercial skills, depending on the nature of the HR job you have. Despite my earlier comments, my sense is that in more senior HR roles, a good understanding or background in IR is a must. I think you also need to a very sound understanding of the business and industry that you work in. However, most importantly, I think you need to have a real passion for people and a desire to do what you can to help each and every one of them succeed.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

I think HR needs to demonstrate an appreciation of the issues that executives face, a willingness to work as part of a team, to communicate openly and honestly and to be there to provide professional advice and help them achieve their goals.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

I have had the privilege of having a number of outstanding managers and colleagues to work with, especially at Deakin and Australia Post.

I also try to appreciate the point of view of everyone I come in contact with and learn something from them. In terms of higher profile people, those that had an influence at a time when I was moving from IR to HR included, James Strong and Bob Hawke.

What advice would you give to graduates considering a career in HR?

Remember that you have to understand and get some operational experience of the HR function. Take on extra roles whenever you can, to gain broad exposure and experience. Working in the core business of the organisation helps you to understand the business and people you are trying to support. Work to establish a reputation for honesty, integrity and hard work early in your career.

Describe yourself in three words

Committed, adaptable and honest

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