Allyson Lardner’s incredibly diverse career and her leadership during Victoria's coronavirus (COVID-19) response has been honoured by the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA).

Allyson Larder, dressed in her khaki Forest Fire Management Victoria uniform shirt, smiles. She is standing to the right of the image in front of shrubs in a garden.

Allyson is a veteran of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). She is Deputy Chief Fire Officer and Director of Bushfire and Emergency Management with Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic).

She was recently named one of IPAA Victoria’s Top 50 Women in the Public Sector, an award that recognised her sector-leading work to ensure emergency services workers stayed safe and healthy during the Victoria coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

‘I’m very proud,’ she said of the award.

‘From an FFMVic perspective, we were leading the emergency sector in the early days of the pandemic with what we were doing, what we were planning, what we were documenting and how we were operating.

‘Many of our approaches were picked up and built on by our partner agencies. The fact we were able to get through the past two years without losing significant portions of our workforce to COVID, even at the height of the Delta and Omicron peaks, is a testament to the work and the thinking that was done very early on.

‘We got it pretty right. We have managed pretty successfully.’

Challenging environment

For Allyson, the challenges posed by COVID-19 differed markedly from her usual emergency management role.

‘There was no rule book. Our society has not gone through a pandemic since the Spanish flu, so it was quite a shift,’ she said.

‘One of the real opportunities was that we weren’t necessarily tied to existing procedures and protocols. We were creating things, learning as we went and making adjustments.

‘That sense of dynamism kept us on our toes and kept that level of interest high – not just for me but for the team as well.’

Allyson said she has worked across a range of roles in her 25 years with DELWP and predecessor agencies, including biodiversity, farm succession planning, water and catchment management, policy work, managing natural resources and environment programs, managing DELWP’s Forest and Fire Operations Group and tackling responses to the 2019-20 bushfires and COVID-19 as Deputy Chief Fire Officer.

Variety a career driver

That diversity was an essential ingredient in her career development, she said.

‘I have done a range of different things since I started. Your career is iterative. Everything you learn in previous roles you build on in your next role whether the content is directly linked or not. Your skills are transferable, and the links that you make are enduring,’ Allyson said.

‘When we were looking to implement things from a fire perspective (during the COVID-19 response), I was getting calls from other groups within the department asking how things were working and how it might look for them.

‘It was the relationships I built in previous roles that allowed people to feel comfortable to call and have what would have been quite a random conversation with someone they didn’t know before.’

DELWP’s broad community role has also helped Allyson to shine.

‘The breadth of things we’re responsible for is astounding,’ she said.

‘I have probably changed jobs every three-to-five years and moved from different portfolios into something new. A whole raft of different things along the way. That breadth of topics we’re responsible for has kept me interested for a long time.’

Young women: 'Step up'

Allyson urged women starting out in the Victorian Public Service to be active and advocate for themselves.

‘It’s a good place to be. I think in the public service, we get access to a broad range of opportunities,’ she said.

‘But my other piece of advice is don’t wait for it to come to you. Step up. Make networks. Build relationships with as many people as you can across different portfolios. Take those opportunities to interact and engage with different parts of your department, then use them to your advantage.

‘If you’re not looking out for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. Jump in boots and all, and who knows what the future will bring.’