As we walk into the office of the Director for Financial Governance, a number of questions are mulling through my head as I prepare and order the interview questions I will be directing at the new senior manager. Luckily, it is the friendly and familiar face of Melissa van Niekerk that greets me as I enter her new office. You can immediately sense calmness and confidence in this office.
Melissa started working at Provincial Treasury 12 years ago but she had already set her target at progressing to a director level position. Young, hardworking, eager to learn, talented and ambitious, Melissa carefully reviewed her options and immediately started implementing her plans that would one day deliver her dream job.
Her aspirations became reality when she was appointed as the Director for Financial Governance at the beginning of July. Not only did her appointment improve employment equity and female representivity at senior management level, but it also showed that through succession planning and development, staff from within the ranks of the Provincial Treasury can be prepared for positions within the department that require specialised and technical skills – something that is often difficult to find externally.
“I am ambitious and very determined. When I set my mind on something, I work hard towards achieving that. Through the years I have set my own personal goals to track my career progress to ensure that I did not get distracted from my end goal – it took 12 years, but here I am.”
Q: Melissa, you mention that you have set your own career goals but what else did you do to prepare for this role?
A: I grasped each and every opportunity that presented itself to develop myself through training, working on special projects as well as acting in more senior roles. By doing this, you increase your knowledge, skills and it opens your mind to strategic and creative thinking. You start to consider alternative solutions, innovation and changes to processes in order to deliver a better service to stakeholders. You cannot succeed on your own, you have to trust and rely on your managers, peers and staff. The knowledge I have gained and lessons learned through the experiences of colleagues is invaluable. I do believe that this has helped me in many ways to become a leader. I have been fortunate to have had nurturing managers that assisted my development and provided career guidance and for that I will be eternally grateful. I hope that I can again impart my knowledge and experience to develop the next generation of leaders.
Q: What do you consider to be your most important task at this very moment?
A: I am not planning on making big changes immediately. People comes first and I am passionate about developing people. My first focus will therefore be to create a work environment conducive to collaboration, synergy and optimal performance. Our teams relate to our stakeholders, understand the environments in which they operate and this allows us to align to the needs of our clients and to be their strategic partner. We will be critically evaluating all our service offerings and identify areas where we can improve. This will be a holistic approach, involving the entire team as I value and respect my colleagues’ experience and input. Together we will be pro-active in identifying challenges and implementing suitable solutions which will ultimately create value for clients and citizens. Over the years, our staff have built strong relationships with our stakeholders. All other projects will fall in place when we are more aligned to stakeholders and provide an even more strategic service.
Q: Any exciting projects on the horizon?
A: There are many projects at various phases of implementation and therefore I do not want to elaborate too much at this moment. One project that I believe will be of great value to our clients is the Budget Treasury Office (BTO) pool of expertise. We are creating a pool of people with scarce skills that would be able to be deployed to municipalities where key positions become vacant and pose a governance risk. It is especially rural municipalities that often struggle to fill these positions and with the BTO pool of expertise we are offering a support package to assist during periods of transition or leadership changes that may cause instability. Together with Local Government we will assist our clients to capacitate themselves.
Q: The transition from a Deputy Director to Director is often a very daunting prospect, especially for women as they need to balance work life with family life and the needs of their children. How have you experienced the transition?
A: It is too soon to answer, ask me in a year! (Melissa laughs). I won’t lie, it is really tough but you adapt very quickly and learn how to make time. Before accepting the appointment my husband and I discussed the additional pressures that this position would place on me as a wife and mother. My family comes first. That being said, I do believe that you can reach a healthy balance between work and family time. From 18:00 to 22:00 I give my undivided attention to my family. After 22:00 when the “mommy duties” are done, I get my laptop out and start working. This quiet time is great to catch up on correspondence, reports and to prepare for the next day at work. I do expect this will over time not be required as often as now, once I am completely settled in this position. It is also important to stay healthy an exercise regularly. I find that exercise is a great stress release activity for me.
We wish Melissa and the Financial Governance Directorate well on this exciting process of self-discovery.