Professional hockey player. Mountain biker competing at national level. Leading a strategic and structural review of the United Nations Development programme. Deputy Chief Executive of the NZ Treasury. Current Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment (MfE).
When you look at Vicky Robertson’s CV, it’s no surprise she was a 2015 Women of Influence winner, claiming the Public Policy category title of the annual programme.
Now, just over one year into her tenure as head of MfE, she reflects on her achievements to date, the challenges she faces, and why a sense of humour is the most important attribute required for the role.
No two days the same
As you can imagine, working on such vast projects as cleaning up our nation’s waterways, climate change, and marine protection covers a lot of ground and requires input and collaboration from all walks of life.
“No two days are the same. It’s a really varied role and I love that, it really keeps me on my toes.
“Just a couple of weeks ago I was standing in the rain talking to farmers in the Hawke’s Bay about what they’re doing in terms of cleaning up water ways, how far they’ve come, and what their plans are for the next while.
“That’s one of my key things for the Ministry, taking the time to bring the outside in and listen and really understand different perspectives.”
Building external input into their projects is already paying off for Vicky and her team.
“Where it’s working well is the Te Hono Bootcamp, which is a primary sector network of Chief Executives across the primary sector. The whole conversation is about how you move from commodity to more value premium and the environmental credentials we’ll need to prove in order to do that.”
With great power…
Vicky says what attracted her to the role was more to do with the positive impact she can have on New Zealand than the seniority that came with it.
“I was really careful about what role I wanted to take coming out of the Treasury. I’m not motivated to be a Chief Executive just for the title of that role. I really wanted to be in an organisation that was critical for New Zealand.
“We’re at crux between what central government does, what local government does, and who we are as a society and our culture, and it links to economic and business prosperity.
“The environment is the envelope in which we do all of that activity in New Zealand, whether it be economic, cultural or social.
“Whether we get it right or wrong, it will have a huge impact for New Zealand. It attracted me because of that.”
Proudest achievements to date
There are two achievements Vicky is most proud of completing in her first year at MfE, the first being last year’s launch of the Environment Aotearoa report.
“We have a role to provide an independent picture for New Zealand around the state of our environment. The report says the state of our fresh water, the state of our environment, our biodiversity, and is all based on good quality data.
“That was pretty important and it was our first go at compiling the report. I’m pretty proud that we got there.”
The other highlight for Vicky is getting her new team up and running.
“We’ve had quite a shift in our leadership team here, and with a new team on board I’m really excited about what that can mean for our Ministry.”
A sporting attitude
With such a long history of high performance in hockey and mountain biking, it’s only natural that Vicky has taken some of the lessons from this into her professional life.
“I’ve played team sports most of my life, and the results-driven part of that is really fantastic. You get very focussed on what you’re trying to achieve and you build resilience when it doesn’t quite go well, so you hone your skills and try again.”
Along with the focus on results comes Vicky’s understanding of how to manage an effective team.
“What I’ve learnt over time is bringing out more diversity within a team, being able to get different talents on the field, and getting people to play to their strengths.”
The right stuff
Vicky is quick to point of the most important personal attribute required to succeed in her role: a sense of humour.
“You need to keep things in perspective because you feel the weight of the responsibility. But I love that about working in this Ministry because people are really friendly and really awesome to work with.
But it’s also about being patient, hardworking, and never losing sight of the end goals.
“One of my things is setting the direction and making sure that we’re making small steps toward that. Not trying to achieve everything within 5 minutes. And being able to learn and adjust from failure when we don’t get things quite right.”
Vicky’s passion to make a substantive positive difference to our country’s environmental future is clear, summing up her goal as “Making policy in the real world, not the theoretical world.
“If we can crack that, we’ll be really happy.”