Mental Health Online Courses

#2 How she builds connection – Amanda Yeates, Deputy Director General of the Department of Transport and Main Roads. (s01ep02)

Sep 15, 2021

Amanda talks about the ways that she builds connection within the department and her own self-care strategies. She also shares the advice that she would give to her 18-year-old self.
"The key to success comes down to the people who work for you"
-Amanda Yeates


  • Building connection within the department
  • Benefits of greater diversity in the workplace
  • Addressing the high suicide rate in the construction industry


Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, Amanda Yeates

Graeme Cowan  00:02

Hi everyone, this is Graeme Cowan, and welcome to the Caring CEO podcast. We created this podcast because we believe that every leader’s number one priority is to build a more caring and resilient team who enjoys growing together. It is my job to interview CEOs and other senior leaders who value building both a culture of care and a culture of high performance. I’m very keen to understand how they do this; and I’m sure there’d be lots of insights and tips for anyone who wants to build a high performing team. In this interview with Amanda Yeates, I’m sure you’ll find her very engaging and enthusiastic. She oversees a very large department 3500 people with a $23 billion capital expenditure budget over the next four years to build roads and other infrastructure. She’s deeply passionate about building employee wellbeing across her whole department and she chairs the well-being committee for that group. She also practices self-care with the gym and explains how she fits that in. She shares also about an app, she’s found very helpful for helping her just switch off at night, and also to get a better sleep. During the pandemic, she strove to increase connection across the group and she discusses the various initiatives she had to do that very passionate about the importance of R U OK?, in her group, because the construction, the road, the transport industry all have a very, very high suicide rate. And she really would like to bring that down dramatically. And she also finally shares the advice she would give to her 20-year-old self if she had to live time over again. And I think it’s a message that should resonate for every woman who aspires to senior leadership. Welcome to the show, Amanda Yeates. Amanda is the Deputy Director General for Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads where she’s been for over 10 years. She is responsible for the roads and infrastructure development, and is responsible for engineering and technology, program delivery and operations. She is also the chair of the Department Safety, Health and Well-Being Governance Committee, and is dedicated to the physical, mental, and emotional well being of staff across her department. I first came across Amanda when she posted about the importance of self care on LinkedIn and tagged me. Her post went viral and when I read the comments and responses, I knew I wanted to interview Amanda for the caring CEO podcast.

Amanda Yeates  02:42

Welcome, Amanda, thank you very much Graeme, it’s fantastic to be here to talk to you today.

Graeme Cowan  02:47

Just to start off, Amanda, what does having a culture of care in the workplace mean to you?

Amanda Yeates  02:53

So, I think for me, and this really became very, very clear for me, during COVID, that we have an enormous program of work, even a division that I’m responsible for. And the key to the success is really down to the people. So you know, we can put all of the systems and processes in place, we can have the best of all of those things, if our people aren’t feeling well in themselves, and so therefore being able to bring their best selves to work, you know, our success is really compromised. So for me, the success, my success, and the success of our organization is down to the people. And I think now more than ever, and during COVID, this really was highlighted. If we are not looking after the well being of our people, then they can’t be at their best in their homes, in their families and in the workplace.

Graeme Cowan  03:42

How do you balance the need between, you know, delivering stuff on time and budgets and care, there must be some tension there sometimes?

Amanda Yeates  03:50

Look, there often is some competitive tension between making sure that we are maximizing people’s self care and that people are; because I mean, self care really isn’t enough is it? So we can all care about our own well being and it’s can all care about our self care. But if you go into a workplace where the people you work with and the people you work for, they need to care at least as much as you do about your individual well being. And if that’s not the case, then the self care is really not going to mean very much at all, because you’re going into an environment where there’s stresses that are really, in some ways cancelling out some of the poverty benefits of your self-care. So I think one of the things that we have had to do as an organization is we’ve had to really highlight the fact that people’s well being and our successes are really integrally connected. And that some of that it’s really hard to just sort of fixtate that because we can’t say ‘Look, this is now improve things’, and people just believe it. Some of it has to be, you know, learning through living it and I think some of the self care initiatives that we’ve put in place and the fact that we really, as an organization are moving towards a culture where we really value people’s self care. Leaders in our organization are starting to see the benefits of that and how that plays out in terms of delivery. But looking at it, there is often conflict in those things. And it’s something that we can’t do at once we’ve got to keep that culture of self care on the agenda. Always, it’s got to be part of the way we do things around here.


Graeme Cowan  05:19

And how do you keep it on the agenda? What are the tactical things you do in a week to help keep it there?


Amanda Yeates  05:24

So one of the things in particular that I have done, and I’ve really ramped this up in the last 12 months, and during COVID, is, I think connection is one of the really, really important things about making sure that we value self care. And that connection is, we’ve got to know enough about each other enough about our colleagues and our friends, to be able to have that real and valuable connection, that really vulnerable connection where the stuffs not quite right, we’re able to speak up and say that we’re not masking that stuff. And I think one of the things that I am going to carry through in 2021, is, you know, just different ways of connecting with people. As you mentioned earlier, I’ve got three and a half thousand, people in the division that I’m responsible for, those people are geographically dispersed right across Queensland. So, you know, I can’t, on a weekly basis, be out at some of the really remote regional locations talking face to face with people. But what we have been able to do is, you know, we’re initiating monthly live online sessions where I just talk so people right across the organization, all three and a half thousand people are invited to sit in on either just listening to some things that I’ve got to say, some information that, you know, I’d like to get out to people, or sometimes it’s just having a conversation with other people in the organization. So I just think connection. And that continued connection is really, really critical to making sure that self care does play right on top of the agenda.

Graeme Cowan  06:46

Yeah so, I read a fantastic book called ‘The culture code’ the end of last year, and they talk about, you know, the high performing teams in an organization, you should always be asking these questions. The first one was ‘are we connected?’ Second one is, ‘do we feel safe and can talk about things that are troubling us?’ And third one is about creating a shared future. Do you look at how you can involve your group in creating the future as well?


Amanda Yeates  07:14

Yes, and I mean, that’s a really interesting way of articulating, I’ve never heard it articulated like that before. But it’s so true. I think, you know, towards the end of last year, myself and my leadership team, we just sat down and said rightio, we’ve sort of been operating in crisis mode for several months now that Now, fortunately, in the organization that I lead, we’re actually very used to dealing in crises, because we deal with a lot of significant weather events that have major, major consequences, negative consequences for our infrastructure. So we get in, we mobilize quickly, and we fix it. And COVID’s been different, because we’ve offered and in crisis mode for a very, very long time. And, you know, we sort of all thought 2020 was going to be an influence in the 2021 might get better. And yet, we’ve seen that, you know, the COVID crisis can continue to have to operate in that crisis mode. So towards the end of last year, we just sat down as a leadership team and said, you know, in one sense, it felt a bit selfish to disconnect from that kind of crisis mode, because our people still needed us. But we needed to have a bit of a look at before, they’re really strategic things that we need to focus on as a business, both the business outcomes, but also the people outcomes that is going to really position as well for 2021. And I think, really making the effort to make that time, especially during times when you are prioritizing many, many other things that are very significant and very important. But it’s important just to make sure that we are making time to connect properly and to connect outside of just the day to day operations of the business.

Graeme Cowan  08:45

Very important. And what I think is quite interesting is like you obviously have a very demanding role. How do you practice self care? What sort of you have any rituals that basically keep you on track with self care?

Amanda Yeates  08:57

Yes. I’ve got two teenage daughters, I have a 17 year old and a 14 year old. And I think, you know, one of the things that I really love is some of the rituals that I have, in terms of my own self care, have been things that my daughters have initiated, and you know, stuff that they really want to do to connect with me and for us to connect with the family. And during COVID, my oldest daughter decided that we were all going to do cycling classes now, personally, when the alarm goes off at five o’clock in the morning, and I go What am I doing again? Oh, yes, I’m going to drive to a gym and get on a bike in a room and and have someone shout at me for half an hour. Now, I thought that was probably the worst possible thing in the world that I could do. And yet, it actually really became a bit of a stress reliever. You know, it became a bit of fun between myself and my two daughters. You know, like, I’d look over at them and they’d be going, Wow, are we ever going to get through this, but it just became a little bit of a ritual that we were able to do together. So there’s some things like that. I think that it’s really important to prioritize those things. And sometimes, I think it’s about saying no other priorities because you are prioritizing yourself and I often find. And I don’t know if this is a cultural thing in terms of the workplace or the sort of workplaces that I’ve worked in, but I actually think I put that pressure on myself more than my workplace puts it on me. So I will sometimes say, Oh, no, I can’t do that. Because I really I’ve got this other work treatment or I can’t be seen to be, you know, leaving work a bit early to do something. I don’t think it’s other people in my workplace that do that, I think often, and I’m sure there are other people who feel the same. It’s often that sort of pressure that we put on ourselves by Oh, no, we better prioritize work, we’ve better still be here late so that it looks like we’re working really hard. So I’ve really had to very consciously try to break some of those habits myself.

Graeme Cowan  10:42

How do you switch off? How do you stop the mind going? Do you have any strategies for that?

Amanda Yeates  10:48

Oh, look, I do. Someone last year introduced me to a little app called calm. And it was quite funny because they introduced me to this app, because they said, Oh, you’re really like it because Matthew McConaughey is on there. And he can read your sleep story. And so we had this very funny thing, my husband and I, in our household where you know, I would turn Matthew McConuaghey on at night, and he would read me a little story. And my husband started saying, ‘Is Matthew going to put us to sleep again tonight?’ And you know it’s amazing. I never thought and there’s lots of other people reading stories on there. But they’re quite lovely, lilting, relaxing stories. And I thought that if I had somebody voice reading a story, that it would be incredibly difficult to go to sleep. And it is not. And I don’t know what the psychology is behind it. And I’m sure it’s something that might work for some people and not for others. But I’ve found it exceptional. You know, I put one of those sleep stories on now, every single night. I’ve never got to the end of one of those stories. And the stories are about 35 minutes long. So and I know that prior to doing that, prior to that little rituals, I was lying in bed tossing and turning, and then I’d read a book for a while and then I, you know, it’d be two or three hours that it will take me to get to sleep. So I think it’s just sort of finding those kinds of things. And just going this is going to be my little ritual for disconnecting and making sure that I get some sleep because for me, if I don’t sleep, then I know that that impacts every other aspect of my life.

Graeme Cowan  12:11

That’s wonderful. When my wife graduated as an electrical engineer, she was one of three women in a cohort that’s 70 engineers. And your civil engineering degree, were you also out numbered?

Amanda Yeates  12:25

Yes, the numbers are fairly similar. So I think I was six in the graduating class of about 60. And Engineers Australia put out figures every year, I think the number of practicing engineers in Australia at the moment is it’s about 13%, you know. So and those numbers have hovered around the 13% number for a very, very long time. Yes. So I think diversity and not just gender diversity, but diversity in the field of engineering is still something where we’ve got a long way to go.

Graeme Cowan  12:55

Yeah and when you think about the challenges you have in the next three months; how do you plan your time to, you know, have time for self care, crew care? You know, keeping an eye out for others? How do you keep on track?

Amanda Yeates  13:12

Well I mean, I think that’s always going to be a constant challenge. And I’m not sure that I always get it right. And, you know, I do find myself saying yes to fascinating things. Particularly, you know, I’ll give you an example. We’re coming up to International Women’s Day, in March. And I’ve had a lot of requests to come and do those speaking engagements for International Womens’ Day. And I find it really hard to say no to those things. Because I’m really passionate about diversity in the engineering workforce. And so therefore, I think, well, if I don’t say yes to those things, you know, am I really demonstrating my strong commitment? Having said that, it’s not possible for me to do all of those things. So I think I am very, very lucky to have a group around me that the direct group of people that I worked with in my office are an incredibly supportive group of people, they are exceptional at sometimes kind of calling me out on those things and saying, Do you think it’s really possible for you to do all of those things? So I think sometimes it’s when you have to manage all those things yourself, you think you are a superhero, and that you can do everything and be all things to all people? And sometimes it does affect someone else. It’s almost similar to the ‘R U OK?’ question except that it’s, ‘are you sure that you really want to try to manage all those things?’ Because I think when you do try to do too much you get in the midst of it, and you know that you’ve got all the balls in the air, and they’re all going to tumble down. And at that point, you don’t really know what you will do next. Whereas if someone proactively sort of says, ‘Do you really want to nominate to do all of those things? And perhaps not bring your best self to all of them? Or would it be better to just pick a few and be your best self in those things?’ So I think having people around you who are willing to step up and who are connected enough to you and know enough about you to really ask those questions is so important and I think it’s also important for everyone to be that kind of friend and colleague for other people as well.

Graeme Cowan  15:07

How does your team work together? You know, what do you think is the core ingredients? You said, One, they really look out for each other. And that’s obviously really good. What else do you think makes up a great team?

Amanda Yeates  15:18

I think it’s interesting, because historically, I might have said that the connection that comes with us, you know, all being in the same workspace and all knowing what each other’s doing, and I think the core of it is still the connection. But I’ve seen how a distributed work model and recently have moved to a much more distributed work model, I’ve seen how that can actually have a huge improvement on the connectedness within teams, the productivity within teams. So I think ultimately, it does come down to that connection. So really, you know, understanding what our core purpose is. I think, having a connection that allows us to then have a shared set of values. Now we’re not as individuals all going to have the same values. But you know, we all come to the workplace for a purpose, and to have that connection and have those shared values really, I think, strengthens that ability for us to work with that shared set of goals and outcomes.

Graeme Cowan  16:14

Absolutely. And in a role, such as the one you’ve got, you know, there have to be times when hard decisions have to be made, and decisions that have implications on employees in terms of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. How do you approach something like that? Can you think of an example where you had to make a decision like that? And how do you go about thinking about how it would be implemented?

Amanda Yeates  16:39

So, look, I think one of the things about the sort of work that I do, so I obviously work for government. And so we’re client side on the delivery of public infrastructure, and in really technical fields was the field that I work in. Oftentimes, people like me, engineers, like me will say, “Rightio, we’ve got a problem to solve. And now we will come up with what the solution for that problem is.” And I think one of the greatest challenges that we have in that context is we are delivering those technical solutions for our community. So in this case, we’re delivering those solutions for the people of Queensland. And I think one of the greatest challenges that I have, and where I sort of have had some either failures or real points of crisis, where I’ve had to make some hard decisions and really regroup and say how we’re going to do this differently, is when we don’t necessarily engage with the community correctly. So if we don’t engage, they mean, really coming on board and being part of developing even just a problem definition of what are we trying to solve here? So we just come out with a solution and say, Look, here, we’ve solved the problem. And we’re going to get on and deliver this. And the community then says, Oh, hang on a minute, I’m not necessarily sure that that’s the solution that we want in this community context. The greatest mistake that we can make is to say, What do you know, what were the people who understand the technical stuff? So it’s a pity that you don’t agree with this, but we’re actually right. And eventually, you’ll realize they’re right as well. And we’ll just go and deliver the said, and I think that’s the worst possible thing that we can do as people delivering that to the public infrastructure. So one of the things in terms of how decisions, is it sometimes very, very difficult for a lot of those technical people who’ve worked on those solutions for a long time, to have to have that conversation to say, Well, wait a minute, I don’t think we’ve got the community engagement correct here. And we need to go back, and re-engage the community to make sure that they are on board both with the problem of the definit, you know, the definition of the problem that we’re trying to solve, and the process that we’re going to do to come up with that solution. So I’ve had to do that multiple times during my career. And I think one of the things about doing that it’s incredibly difficult in the moment. And, you know, really making sure that the team who are developing those solutions, the technical people who are doing that are on board with that is very challenging. What we do find, though, is if we’re willing to have those hard conversations, and willing to re-look at what we’re proposing to do 9 times out of 10 and put it on the 10 times out do 10, we will actually get a better outcome. So we’ll get an outcome that meets the technical requirements, but it will also meet the social, economic, cultural and environmental requirements of that particular geographic context. So that’s been a real learning for me in my career, and something that I really, really value very highly by myself, I try to make sure that I keep that in mind, but I really value that in other people as well.

Graeme Cowan  19:21

I think you were previously local government. Is that right?

Amanda Yeates  19:27

Yes, yeah. I started my career in local government. Yes.

Graeme Cowan  19:29

It sounds like you might have learned some lessons through that that community consultation.

Amanda Yeates  19:34

Absolutely yes, I think, you know, everything throughout my career, you see skills that other people have, and you think, oh, that’s a skill that I’ve got. And, and I really, I really like to see those skills and other people that I admire and see what I can do to sort of rise to the challenge to emulate and build those skills in myself. So your local government is obviously a very, very good place to start to build those skills, yeah.

Graeme Cowan  19:58

I’m very interested to know, someone that you did learn from in local government and what they did and how you sort of decided you’d go about learning how to do that yourself?

Amanda Yeates  20:10

Well, actually, one of the people that I sort of always call out to somebody that I learned a lot from, was it was actually when I started in state government so many years ago now, but I was involved in a mentoring program where I was actually nominated to be a mentor for somebody else. And we went along to the mentoring session where the mentors were all sort of going to be, you know a bit of an information session for the mentors. And one of the people that I met there, who was also going to be a mentor was a lady by the name of Dr. Vessels. And she is Australia’s or was Australia’s first Rhodes Scholar. And we all had to introduce ourselves. And it wasn’t just that she was Australia’s first Rhodes Scholar, but she had all this fabulous experience across regional Queensland, internationally, she just had this really strong ability to tell a very technical story, in very plain English, that people who were outside of that technical field can understand. She had this really strong presence, she was clear that you know, she was a strong leader. And it was a very strange situation, because I actually approached her in that session and said, “Look, I know I’m here to be a mentor. But I know you’ve already been nominated to mentor somebody else. But would you mind if I got some mentoring from you as well?” And she was very gracious and gave me a lot of her time. And, I just, it’s fantastic to sort of see some skills in other people and you know, some of the learnings that I had from her were absolutely brilliant. And I think it’s really a testament to the fact that throughout points in your career, it’s great to make sure that you are looking for people who’ve got skills that you really admire. And you don’t necessarily have to be in formal mentoring programs with them, but learn from them, have conversations with them, get a connection with them, you know, learn what they’re about scientists learn why they’re good at their job, but because there’s, there’s always more to people than just the outputs that they’re achieving in a work context. But yeah, I think just strive to always be, you know, learning and seeing the good in other people that you can emulate in yourself,

Graeme Cowan  22:04

That growth, that’s so important for all of us if want to, you know, be really stimulated in our career view, also read books, and that sort of thing, or where else do you get exposure to new ideas, trends, developments?

Amanda Yeates  22:17

Yeah, do and a variety of things. And again, I think it’s really important to prioritize that continuous learning. And I know you’re getting into, I certainly get into roles or, you know, various points during the year where it’s almost impossible to prioritize in a work context, you know, other sort of self development things. But those things have been really critical to me earlier this year, I do those self development course. So I went away with a group of other executives, it was a female executives retreat. And, you know, just some of the challenges that other people who are working in other industries, some of the things that people put you in the context of the things that they are teaching you is fantastic. I do do a lot of reading both on a professional and a personal level in terms of self development and professional development. So yeah, and I’m constantly sort of trying to talk to people who have really got those skills in self development and got those skills in how you manage health and well being, in a large work complex, particularly giving the work that I’m doing at the moment. So yeah, look, I think one of the things about that continuous development is I think, part of what energizes me, I think that’s where I get my creativity is talking to other people, and developing my own skills and reading about concepts and context that I know haven’t necessarily got that level of capability yet.

Graeme Cowan  23:44

Is there a book to be found particularly relevant and really resonated with you, in terms of your leadership style?

Amanda Yeates  23:51

Recently, I’ve been reading a Julia Gillard’s book, which is a bit of a look at a whole range of leaders internationally. And it’s quite a fascinating read. That was one of my Christmas holiday reads in which I really enjoyed the other one that I’ve been reading recently, I have a friend who’s name is Kim McCosker. She is the author of the ‘4 ingredients’ cookbooks. And I think she’s a largest selling author of self published cookbooks in Australia. And she’s recently written a book, which is about the last 10 years. And just looking at some of the challenges and some of the, just the courage, I think I really like seeing stories where people are faced with challenges. And they may not see it as courage within themselves, but, you know, they articulate stories which are just really about courage and the grip on the grace which they kind of navigate all of these different things. So you look at things fantastic. On a personal level. One of the things that I’ve read recently it’s an article is called how many friends do we need to be happy and that’s by Kate Leaver. So she’s  written ‘The Friendship Cure’ which I haven’t read yet, but that’s definitely on my list of reads coming up. So yeah, I think it’s just fantastic to sort of get exposure to a whole range of both professional and personal development, in my reading.

Graeme Cowan  25:06

How can we get more women to sit, into senior leadership? I read last year Deloitte put out a report called ‘The Future Work is Human.’ And it was really interesting, they categorized work into three areas. So there was like, hand careers, you know, you work physically drive trucks, labor, etc; then there was head careers, which, you know, typically are accountants and lawyers and engineers; then the third area was heart careers. And these were careers that involve collaborating with groups, it involves being creative and involves having people really feel involved. And they also did this analysis to really show that a huge amount of growth, most of the growth in jobs going forward is going to be in these heart things because more and more of the other things will be done by artificial intelligence, or whatever. And I really think that many women, intuitively a much better at these heart type things than men. So, do you have any thoughts about how we can get more women on to the development path?

Amanda Yeates  26:17

I think it’s fantastic. You know, the future is people is a really fantastic way to look at it. I think, historically, one of the contexts that I have always faced is when I have gone into leadership roles, there will be male colleagues, or you know, male peers, or males who will report to me, who will almost seem surprised, and I’ll sort of say, oh, I’ve never worked for a woman before, and you’re actually not that bad. I think sometimes they think that’s a compliment. And you go ‘okay.’ But I think one of the things is, it’d be great to demonstrate that females in leadership, actually, you know, it broadens the perspective. And and I think, diversity in leadership right across the board is incredibly important. So we need people who have diversity in gender, we need, you know, diversity in race, just diversity in backgrounds, so that the problems that we are solving as leaders so the problems are solving for the future, are actually not being solved from a really narrow perspective. So we’re actually saying, Well, look, you know, having that diversity in our leadership really widens the perspective, all the solutions and the opportunities that we’re moving forward with. And I think women do bring a different perspective into leadership roles, I think it’s often important to make sure that we’ve got, that we are continuing to focus on having women in leadership roles who can be role models for other women. Importantly, though, I think they need to be role models for men, because men coming through organizations need to know that having a female boss can be the norm and can be matched to a fantastic outcome. So you know, having people who are in those leadership roles, you know, it’s interesting, because last year, prior to COVID hitting, I had made a decision early 2020, I thought, I’m going to make a stand. I’m not going to talk in any sort of public forums, cause I do get asked to speak, and a lot of things. And I said, I’m not going to talk about work life balance, I’m so tired about talking about work life balance. And I wish people would ask me to talk about some of the other achievements that I’ve had at work, you know, ask me to talk about my technical success or my leadership success. But I very quickly came to the realization that I think it’s a little bit selfish for me to opt out of that conversation, because it’s fine for me to say that, because I have got two leadership roles. And I have successfully balanced, you know, manage the work life balance. And you know, I’ve had a lot of successes there. That’s not the same for everybody. So I think, continuing the conversation and having people who have had success, but not only to talk about their success, but to talk about the trial and error that they’ve had to go through to get to that point of success. So I’ve opted back into that conversation, because I think it’s incredibly important that people like me stay involved in the work life balance conversation, and that was so involved in the diversity conversation. And people like your wife that’s an electrical engineer, also, I’m sure she has had similar experiences.

Graeme Cowan  29:07

I also really have a real issue with that term ‘work life balance’, because it implies that life is good, work is bad.

Amanda Yeates  29:15

Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.

Graeme Cowan  29:16

But for many people, work can be very exciting, it can be stimulating, and it’s been shown to be a really, really important part of our well being. And so I do like the term work life integration.

Amanda Yeates  29:29


Graeme Cowan  29:29

And that’s working out how you can make it work for yourself. And it doesn’t imply that if you, you know, work ridiculous hours for a day or two, that’s not necessarily bad, if it brings you progress, if it gives you you know, real fulfillment, and so, yeah, I’m all for that side of things. For sure.

Amanda Yeates  29:47

I like that. I like work life integration. I think I’ll make sure that I try and use that from now on, yeah. Perfect. Look, I think you’re right. I mean, my identity is a lot of my identity is about the job that I do and the success that I’ve had in a work context, that’s not the only part of my identity, but it’s not like, I have a personal and private identity. And then I just happen to turn up to work every so often, you know, it is all intergrated, my personal values and my work values are the same value that I have two different sets of values. So it is intergrated, so work life integration is great. I like it.

Graeme Cowan  30:28

You’ve obviously done very, very well, in terms of your career within the department. Were there people that really encouraged you or pushed you outside the comfort zone? Some people it really made a difference, and we’re interested in your success.

Amanda Yeates  30:44

Yes, and I think one of the things that I know about myself, and it’s taken a while to get this self realization, is I’m very much in self sabotager. So you know, whenever there’s been opportunities that have come up, I have often had people who have sort of had to be my cheer squad right at the finish line, because I will often go “Actually, no, I’m really not up to that task. You know, I couldn’t do that job, I couldn’t possibly apply for that job.” I can’t put myself out there. So I think one of the things that’s been really important to me is to make sure at those points in time that I do have those people around me, I know who I can. And some of those people, I don’t have to ask them to kind of give me that assistance at that point in time. They will, I don’t know if it’s intuitively, but you know, because we do have that connection, they will sort of say, “Hang on a minute, how are you going with that?” And sometimes we just need that extra little bit of instinctive. I think, that strong desire in self to self sabotage, I think is alive in a lot of us. And it’s a characteristic that I find myself, I constantly have to work on. I have other people who when I talk about the work that I do, or when people see me in a work context, will say, “Wow, you’ve been really successful, and you’ve kind of got it all together.” And that’s not the case. I don’t think that’s the case for any of us, all of us have those points in time where we think, “Gee, am I really up for this?” You know we all kind of have that imposter syndrome or, feel like that we shouldn’t be put up for these sets of opportunities.

Graeme Cowan  32:12

Yeah earlier in my career I worked for 15 years, as a recruiter and headhunter. And I’m not sure how I came to think about this, but I always would ramp down what men said by about 25%, and ramp up women’s said by 45%, because I think, women are less comfortable, self-promoting, and it’s an issue because, you know, they’re probably missing out, I’m not saying it’s the only thing but like, my wife is like that as well. Like, you know, she’s a professor in cancer prevention and epidemiology. And, you know, she just won’t tell people about what she’s up to, you know, she just sort of comes out. But I often find that I have to explain to people what she’s done.

Amanda Yeates  32:52

Yes actually, I think you’re right, because and I’m not sure if your wife does the same thing. But I’m sure if somebody asked her what her role is, she probably just identifies the institution that she works for. So she probably just says, I work for the university. And I know I do the same thing. And somebody pulled me up on it and said, “Every time somebody asks you what you do, you say, ‘Oh, I work for Transport and Main Roads.’ And you never ever put forward what your title is, or the sorts of things that you do.” And I think it is a bit of a trait that women have. What I wonder, though, is, so it’s not necessarily about women sort of saying, well, that’s a trait that we have. And so therefore, that’s something we should change. I wonder whether there’s an unconscious bias in some of the recruiting processes that we recruit towards a very traditional base. And you know, that maybe some of the recruitment practices actually need to change so that people who would not necessarily naturally be self promoting can actually have the opportunities to really be able to talk about like, where their strengths are.

Graeme Cowan  33:54

Yeah, that’s great insight. When you think about the last year is there anyone that you had to ask, ‘are you okay?’ to?

Amanda Yeates  34:01

Yes. I think it almost became a regular part of the vernacular, like it was almost the first question that we had to ask people. And one of the things that I found quite challenging there was, a lot of times you will ask someone, the ‘are you okay?’ question and they’ll say “Yeah, yeah I’m fine.” And what happens when they say “No, I’m really not;” and what’s the next question that I ask? And that was always a challenge that I had. And I think it’s the point I think you and I had a conversation last year where I put that to you and said, Look I’m just, if somebody says ‘no, I’m not okay’ I’m totally out of my depth. And I think identifying that you’re out of depth is okay. You know, I’m not there to solve that person’s problem. But if somebody is not okay, to just ask any question next, you know, any question, even if it’s not quite the right question, but to be engaged with that person and to get that connection and to try and see what I might be able to do, I’m not there to fix them, but what can I do to support them? You know, are there things that I can do? And I think oftentimes, I find this in my friendships when people have asked me if I’m okay. If I say, look, no, I’m not at the moment. Oftentimes people will say, Well, let me know if there’s anything that I can do. And when you’re in that state, where your logic is not quite there, and where you’re really struggling emotionally with things, it’s almost impossible for me to think sensibly about what I could ask somebody else, you know, what help I could ask for. So I really value both my friends and colleagues who don’t ask if there’s anything that they can do. But if I just do something, and maybe it’s not quite right, but if they remove that burden of me having to think about how I might be able to help me, I think that’s just, I just really value that in the connections that I have with people.

Graeme Cowan  35:44

Yeah, remember my second book, it was about carers of people with depression and anxiety. And there’s one quote there from a woman who’d been through a very difficult time. And she said that probably the most help she ever had was a good friend that said, I don’t know what you’re going through, I haven’t been myself. But I’m here to hold you if you want to, you know, cry sort of thing. And the woman actually said that, you know, she saw the exert care, but then emotional support, counted more than anything. And so if people do go on with that spirit of care, you can tell and it can make the biggest difference. Across your organization, how do you think the ability to ask are you okay, authentically? How do you think that can be scaled and grown will increase the reach and impact of that?

Amanda Yeates  36:37

Well, as an organization, so Transport and Main Roads, as a department was one of the first departments that had has an increase in government, at least in that context, has had a wellbeing study. And that’s not to say that other departments and other parts of government haven’t had a focus on wellbeing. But I think as an organization, one of the things that we saw very early, is quite a significant proportion of our workforce, because we’re delivering infrastructure is out on-site. And people who are working out on-sites, you know, we were talking to make some construction and some of our other support associations that we work with. And the people who work in the construction sector that I work in had a much, much higher risk of dying by suicide. And so for us, it was almost a case of, we can’t continue this sort of stiff upper lip, ‘it’ll be all right, you’ll be fine. Let’s just go to a pub and have a beer and everything will be okay’, we have to actually get to the point where our sector can raise their hand and say that they’re not okay can actually say “I’m not well today, and I need a mental health day.” And that that’s not considered slack, or, you know, it was a huge shift in culture. And I’m not different per second, that we are completely there. But we were in the construction sector, certainly, we were starting from the very low base. And I think just the continued highlighting of the fact that this is really important to us, is something that we really want to maintain. We’re looking at the sorts of university partnerships and things that we can do to look at our mental health and well being strategies that we are implementing, to look at, you know, Are there additional things we could be doing? What successes are we having in the work that we’re doing, and happily position to make sure that we are continually challenging and growing, the offering that we have in helping others? Because I just don’t think we can afford not to, we can’t afford to have a construction sector where people in our sectors are at much higher risk than the general community to suicide. It’s just that’s not right.

Graeme Cowan  38:42

Before the role as chair, of the Department of Safety, Health and Well-Being Governance Committee. Why do you do that and how does it operate? And what’s your involvement in how it works?

Amanda Yeates  38:54

Well, actually, it’s interesting, Graeme, because when I took on that role, it was as the chair of Safety and Wellbeing. Now, what we’ve done just towards the end of last calendar year, was actually split those two roles up so we’ve split it now into having Safety as one Governance Committee and Wellbeing as a governance committee. Now the reason that we have done that is, safety is an incredible part of our business, we obviously want to keep everybody who uses our live network safe and alive. And similarly, we want to keep our workers who are working on our sites safe and alive and well being while studies a really critical part of safety, in terms of people’s mental health and well being and the safety associated with that, well being can often help play second fiddle to some of those big safety risks that we see in our world context. So we have separated them out so I am now Chair of the wellbeing committee. So I think it’s a bit of a first for us in that we have said wellbeing is important enough to call it out as its own governance. Now, the reason that I stood up and took on that role when I, when I took on the role of chairman of Safety and Wellbeing. And when I took on this role as Deputy Director General, was that I had had so much experience in our on site context, that there wasn’t an ability for people to put their hand up and say that they weren’t okay. There was just a sense that people had to keep turning up to work. And that, you know, suggesting you weren’t okay with some kind of weakness. And look, you know, we talked before about diversity, I think one of the negative consequences of the construction sector, which is largely male dominated, is that it has borne out a bit of a culture where people don’t wear that vulnerability is not allowed to shine in the workplace. And really, for me, I think that was a really strong, broader that that was something that I wanted to see done differently.

Graeme Cowan  40:46

Fantastic. With regards to thinking about the year ahead, and, you know, just thinking about your priorities, how do you regularly adjust that? Or do you start with a plan and stick to it? How does that go?

Amanda Yeates  41:02

Well, I, historically, I’ve tried to have longer term plans, you know, you stick to a 12 month plan, and then you realize that you chuck it out after about 6 weeks. So what I am proposing for 2021, because now 2020, has taught us anything, it’s we just got to plan for the unplanned. And so I guess I’m sort of saying, well, broadly speaking, there’s some things that I would like to achieve professionally and personally, in 2021, one of the things certainly for us as an agency is, as an essential service provider. And you know, a lot of the infrastructure and maintenance work we do on the road network can employ people and it can mobilize employment pretty rapidly. One of the things that both the state and local government has set as as for challenge is to get as many of our projects out of the ground as possible, so that we can employ people. So professionally, 2021, for me, is going to be about really mobilizing a lot of that investment so that we can get people employed. And you know, really start to get some of that social and economic vibrancy right across things, and that we need. And personally, I think, you know, I need to be thinking about how I would like to position myself for both my professional future but also what’s the sort of legacy that I would like to have within my division. And, I think one of the really strong legacies that I want to leave is that sense of connection that we need to have to be successful. So I really want to make sure that the strong focus we have not only on achieving our professional outcomes, but making sure that our people are a strong focus is really important to me for this year.

Graeme Cowan  42:35

It’s been a great show today. Amanda, I just got a couple more questions. The first is, where would you rate yourself on the introversion extroversion scale? And what implications does that have for how you lead?

Amanda Yeates  42:47

So I think I am a natural introvert. And people laugh at me when I say that, but I don’t think introversion isn’t necessarily about how good their presence is in a group. So for me, I think I have become a practice extrovert. So I know how important it is in the role that I have to be able to speak to groups of people to be able to talk to individuals, to be able to lead community consultation. And you know, one of the things that when I first started in this sort of role, to walk up the front of the room, when you’ve got some very, very angry community members who are not thrilled about the fact that you’re there, and you’re proposing to do something that they don’t like, is incredibly intimidating. It’s also built a whole lot of skills in me that I think has been fantastic for me they both professionally and personally. But yeah, I would certainly say that extroversion is something that I have spent a lot of time working on. What it does mean for me, though, is those things take a lot of energy out of me. So I know for myself that if there’s some big and challenging things where I need to speak to multiple groups of people, lots of people or people who work for me people in the community, or just more generally, I have to make sure that I also programmed in that time for me to unplug and just regroup myself. So that’s really, really critical for me. And it’s taken me a long time to know that about myself. And there are times when you know, I would sort of almost crawl into my bed at night after a big week of have a whole range of those sort of very outwardly extroverted type activities, and not realize why I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed for the whole weekend. And it takes a lot out comes back to that whole saying yes to everything and realizing that that’s not a good outcome for anybody. I’ve got to be much more measured. And I’ve got to make sure that I program in that time that I made myself

Graeme Cowan  44:37

Yeah because the one of the key features that a introvert is really having self-time now to regenerate. And, you know, it is interesting, like Barack Obama was, you know, he was an introvert, you know, was probably the most articulate person in the world, but he was exactly the same and it’s all part of self awareness. Isn’t it? Just being easy on yourself and realizing that you need to do things that self sustain.

Amanda Yeates  45:02

Sometimes, you know, when you’ve got those really strong friendships in your own personal network, and they’re uncomplicated, but so complicated to explain. So it’s hard to often articulate why friendship works. But sometimes, those friends who are wonderful and invigorating and supportive, also need to be the same people who can call you out on that stuff and go hang on a minute and really get you to do something for yourself. So I think just having the people in your lives and having that support crew around you, and being part of the support group, that other people is critically important to building that self awareness, sometimes.

Graeme Cowan  45:35

Wonderful. So Amanda, if you go back to your 18 year old self, you’re probably just started the degree, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?

Amanda Yeates  45:47

Always a hard question to answer because, you know, I don’t feel much older than when I was 30. I was much older than when I was 40. But I do if I look back at me as 18 or 20, you know, I have grown and matured so much. And I know so much more now than what I did then. And there’s that constant thing around ‘Uh, Jesus, so many things I do differently. If I’ve gone back and done that.’ I think, for me, I would probably it’s really around that ability to actually back myself, you know, so I was quite shy, as I said before, quite introverted, really didn’t have a good strong sense of self back then. And I think the advice, I would probably give myself would be to back myself a little bit more. And it took me a long time to feel that and develop that in myself. And I think part of it was a fear of failure. I didn’t want to put myself forward in case I fail. And I don’t think that I now consider putting myself forward if it doesn’t work, I don’t consider that failure anymore. Now, everything is about an opportunity to regroup, recondition and learn more about myself and position myself for a different future. So yeah, I think I would just kind of say, Look, don’t second guess just, whatever, you got feelings, just just go with it. Look at the worst outcome.

Graeme Cowan  47:06

Thank you. That’s some wonderful insights, Amanda, and I really appreciate you being part of the caring CEO, podcast, you know, you really demonstrated and explained how you practice self care, and crew care or teen care, and also how you look out for other people. And with that comes balancing performance and having a culture of care. So we really appreciate your insights. And it’s been great having this chat.

Amanda Yeates  47:37

Thank you Graeme, you know, we certainly, as an organization, amazing individual, I’ve always really admired all of the work that you do, and it’s fantastic the amount that you’re willing to share your work. And certainly that’s been a real strong guide. I really appreciate the opportunity, to talk to you.

Graeme Cowan  47:52

 My pleasure. Thanks for joining us today. I hope you’ve learned something new and heard some practical tips you can try with your team. If you enjoyed this interview today. Please rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform. When you rate us It helps other people to find us. We also welcome any comments. If you are interested in seeing details about our scalable weekly Mental Health Training Programs, please visit us at Our goal for these programs is to make them accessible, practical, and ongoing. If you’ve been impressed by a CEO that you would like us to interview please email details to support at please subscribe by clicking the button below. We really would love to have you as part of the care movement. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks for listening … or perhaps for reading our very lengthy transcript! You did well to get this far down the page :-). From all of us at The Caring CEO and the WeCARE team, keep listening, keep caring and lead with your heart.


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