18 October 2023

Steph Voight is a proud Southerner and a straight talker.

“You have to put in the hard mahi,” she says. “It's not just about showing up and saying ‘kia ora’ and then leaving, because that gets noticed.

“If you think for a second that as a leader there aren't eyes on you when you're out and about, then you're kidding yourself.

“You have to put in the time, do the work, and you have to do the right thing.”

Based in Ōtepoti, Steph is Regional Public Service Commissioner (RPSC) for Otago and Southland, and one of 12 working across 15 regions on behalf of the Public Service.

Employed by individual government departments, they help join up Public Service efforts with stakeholders in the community – particularly iwi and local government – to define priorities and improve services and outcomes. They can also escalate issues to senior Public Service decision makers where necessary.

A unique aspect of the system is that all RPSCs actually have two roles, which they have to balance. For Steph that means she is also Southland Regional Commissioner for Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora | Ministry of Social Development.

“The role is a real honour,” she says. “'You have to remember the privilege that it is to hold this role even when you feel like you have a lot on your plate.

“Because you can't just be a Regional Commissioner from 8-5, it’s much too full on for that, it's more like a vocation.

“Doing this work makes me feel good, it fills my soul.”

After doing the usual university hospitality jobs, Steph's first fulltime role was in the Public Service.

She had graduated with a BA in Political Studies from the University of Otago, then moved to Wellington, where she joined MSD in the Kilbirnie Service Centre.

She says the role gave her good insight into MSD’s core role serving whānau and hapori across the motu.

She has since held various leadership roles in the Southern and Wellington Regions, as well as MSD’s National Office – and has been supported to gain an Executive Masters in Public Administration from the Australia New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG).

She has also served as Manager Justice Services at Te Tāhū o te Tūre | Ministry of Justice in Otago and South Canterbury – a move she credits with expanding her passion for the spirit of Public Service even more.

“I guess I've always been a fool for opportunity,” she jokes when asked about her rapid career progression.

“I’d probably put it down to a lot of luck, a lot of my own ability, and MSD has also been pretty good to me”.

Underpinning the RPSC approach are relationships – with key people in other agencies, iwi, local government, and the business community.

The approach acknowledges that iwi and other Māori groups and regional stakeholders know the realities of their communities and hold valuable insights into what can work to improve their wellbeing.  

Steph says that regular contact is crucial for nurturing those relationships – whether in the form of quarterly hui, monthly breakfasts, or the Regional Leadership Group meetings which have continued since Covid because people didn't want to lose touch.

All the meetings take time and resource to organise, but are crucial to ensuring the relationships are properly in place for when they are needed.

“Creating these spaces for people to talk and connect is really important, and we know people like them because they keep coming back.

“It does trigger me when you go to a hui and people are saying they're too busy to get to this or to do that.

“We're all busy, that's not an excuse. If it's important you just have to make time for it.”

Asked what the biggest change in the Public Service she’s noticed since joining, Steph doesn’t hesitate to answer.

“We've become a lot more focused on longer-term outcomes,” she says.

“We know that some of those quick wins we’ve fallen back on in the past aren't necessarily the best way forward.

“We’re much better at taking that long-term, holistic view to serving our customers and communities.”