July 15, 2021

Career progression and inclusive leadership at QFES

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.

Stephen Smith is the Assistant Commissioner for Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES), People. Every day he works with tremendous people who are truly making a difference, which is what’s kept him with QFES for 27 years.

Pathway to leadership

QFES is a broad organization in the emergency services and the road to leadership can follow multiple paths. Some of the areas include State Emergency Services (SES), Rural Fire Service (RFS), Fire and Rescue Service, emergency management, and a host of other functions.

“There are a lot of opportunities for people to engage with and serve the department in different ways. Even within those services, a broad range of skills are needed to support the people on the front line. Emergency services is very much a team game.”

That common purpose and connection to rely on each other to achieve outcomes creates strong bonds and relationships.

As Assistant Commissioner, no two of Stephen’s workdays are the same. His role covers attraction, recruiting, training, developing and supporting the more than 42,000 people working or volunteering for QFES throughout their career. He also has a strong focus on physical and mental health, injuries and return to work, human resources and workforce planning, as well as reward and recognition.


A job that is a calling

The most rewarding thing for Stephen is the fantastic people at QFES.

“It’s more than a job, it’s a calling. There’s a strong connection to purpose as we work so closely with Queensland communities. You get to recognize great people for the things they do, their level of commitment and the extraordinary ideas they bring to the workplace.”

QFES’ large workforce is diverse and spread out across all of Queensland. Many cultures are represented, and different approaches to work are celebrated. The QFES culture and purpose of serving their communities is more than a company line – they live and breathe it, and instill that as a practice in their people.

“We spend a lot of time and effort to get people to understand the organizational values, and that we are there to serve. With that comes a degree of needing to be informed and led by the community. It’s a different mindset.”


Why women matter in emergency services

For Stephen, the more diverse perspectives he can bring into a team, the more ways they can think of innovative ideas. Women offer different ways of thinking in an environment that was traditionally male dominated.

“I’m pushing to get to a point when we’re not talking about someone’s gender but purely about how much they can contribute and bring to the table. I want people to feel safe in expressing their ideas and views, and comfortable to stretch themselves with the knowledge that if they fail they can learn from it and move on. Failure is accepted as part of moving forward and leading effectively as a group.”

The concept of bringing your whole self to work is important to Stephen, and he’s working to create a culture where people are allowed to be themselves.

“That flows through to greater wellbeing, which gives greater fulfilment; people will be more present, engaged and productive. There are benefits for individuals, for teams, and in our sector better outcomes for the communities we’re working with.”


Leaders can cast a long shadow in organizations as people watch their behavior to determine what is acceptable. Alignment between actions and words is important to demonstrate authenticity.

For Stephen, being a male ally and progressing women within QFES relies on having an open mind, being a good listener, and truly understanding we are all equal.

Careers in Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

Stephen wasn’t even considering a career with QFES 27 years ago. He was working in a trade that was located next to a fire station, which gave him some exposure into their operations. When a job opening came up, he decided to give it a go.

“It’s a job I love, I enjoy going to work knowing that I work with a tremendous team and that we make a difference every day. Every day is unique and brings with it many unknowns, which is attractive to me – as a result I have been able to just be who I am.”

He is passionate about achieving outcomes for the communities QFES works with, and that passion is common throughout the workforce.

“We’re here for community safety, not just response and recovery. We’re here to support people by engaging all the elements of a community. By being focused on more vulnerable elements of our community means we equip them to help themselves and know there are support mechanisms.”

At QFES, career opportunities are available to everyone. There can be physical elements to front line roles, but Stephen says that doesn’t define the entire role – and there are plenty of non-physical career paths.

“We need more people to contemplate emergency services as a career opportunity, then engage with us in terms of understanding a little more about the job. If they did that, they might realize that they might just be the person for the job! There are lots of ways to get involved and be part of QFES, and you’re joining a remarkable group of people who contribute a lot.”


Want more articles like this sent to your inbox every month?

Just let us know what kind of support you’re looking for so we can sign you up to receive the right newsletter for you.

Stay in touch with our ‘Women at work’ newsletter

Enter your details to sign up to our newsletter for the women in our community. Every month you’ll be sent our latest news, advice, inspiration and resources for supporting your career.

Looking for HR and DEI updates?

Check out our monthly newsletter for HR professionals.

About the Author
Samantha Sutherland is the Chief Storyteller at WORK180. She is a Diversity and Inclusion specialist with an analytical background, making her work evidence-based and data driven. Host of WORK180’s Equality Talks podcast and her own Women at Work, Samantha divides her time between interviewing amazing women for WORK180, mentoring and coaching women in, or aspiring to, leadership roles, and providing high-level advice on diversity practices to Australian corporations. You can learn more about the Samantha Sutherland consultancy at samanthasutherland.com.au.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.