This article was a submission to the 2022 Cove Competition.

In the year leading up to my current appointment as a sub-unit sergeant major (SM), several PME sessions were conducted by our unit’s RSM for myself and my peers to help facilitate the transition from senior NCO to warrant officer. A broad range of topics and day-in-the-life scenarios were discussed and workshopped which, alongside the leadership module of S1WA, assisted my realistic expectations for the rank and role of a WO and sub-unit SM respectively. Additionally, the life experiences recounted by our soon-to-be peer SMs helped ‘humanise’ the challenges each of us would be confronted within our locations & appointments. As a result of the combined PME sessions, I felt I was very well prepared for the transition – more so than previous promotions and appointments during my career in the Australian Army. However, even with all this knowledge and training, there were some lessons that were best learnt with boots on the ground.

It’s not about you. This was the advice from the RSM that has become most important and is applicable on every level. The key to it is maintaining balance of mission (command priorities) and sub-unit capability (ops, admin and logistics priorities). Sometimes the scales tip favourably one way due to extenuating circumstances or deployment requirements; however, every effort should be made to re-engage the balance as soon as practicable. This is best achieved by checking in with your OC & subordinates regularly. I schedule weekly senior leadership groups (OC, SM, SNCOs) and monthly NCO/PTE forums to ensure that every peer group has a facilitated catch-up, and messages/recommendations are relayed through the CoC as a two-way communication avenue. Even with the best intentions, there are two ends of your tenure that you will never change: the legacy of your predecessor, and your successor. HOTOs are vital to establishing the start- and end-state of the sub-unit, but also serve as a departure point when establishing the new sub-unit culture and routine. At the end of my tenure, I intend to reflect on the effectiveness of my strategies and hand the sub-unit over to a new SM, proud of the culture and legacy that has developed and thrived under my direction and guidance.

Drinking from the fire hose. I still laugh with familiarity at this statement because it occurs regularly even today. Whilst it is healthy to have a broad spectrum of knowledge when assuming the SM role, what is more important is understanding the responsibility. This is your best opportunity to call upon and develop the knowledge of SMEs, regardless of their relative rank (subordinates, peers, superiors). Rather than be flooded by the sense of corporate ignorance (especially during peak thresholds); view these challenges as an opportunity to learn more about yourself (self-PD), others (sub-unit PD), and the guidance/policy (governance and compliance). Even as I write this, I reflect on the diverse areas of responsibility within my role conducted in the past 4 weeks (SCPTs, PARs, security returns, financial audits, priority capability delegations etc.) and how I was able to compartmentalise and stem the rate of flow from the fire hose.

Talk the talk, walk the walk. Embrace your OC’s command philosophy as if it is your own. Sure, you may be paired with commander that you have personal grievances with, but this needs to be put to one side in order to manage and lead the sub-unit effectively. As part of the weekly SLGs, I contextualise my briefs by way of anticipating the OC’s RFIs (start or current state, end state, methodology, execution, feedback). Look after your OC professionally – RU OK day should be every day. Ensure that both of you take an active interest in the sub-unit training being conducted by NCOs by way of observation (PT, PME, range practices, section/platoon training). This helps establish realistic progress and accurate PARs – vital for reporting to both HQs and the NCOs.

Organise and schedule your workload. This is the part that defines how effectively you work. Compile and conduct your own SM battle rhythm (weekly schedule). Create realistic goals by attending to 2-3 regular occurrences in your responsibility within a given day and aim to attend to all your responsibilities within a given week. HQ governance and compliance can become overwhelming, especially if you’ve forgotten to flag an email! Creating calendar Invites for key dates has helped keep myself and the OC in check throughout the year. Not only does it keep HQ correspondence friendly, but it also opens up room for the stuff that really matters.

Look after yourself. Even with all the planning and coordination in place, you can’t escape the one fact of utmost importance: you’re human. In this contemporary age, so much importance is placed on individual and workplace mental health. Aim to complete not just your SM tenure, but the entirety of your ADF career with the outcome of becoming a better person. Create some time in your own battle rhythm to do something you yearn to do (PT, PME, range practice, personal admin etc.). Some un-read emails, late returns, or rescheduled meetings will not unhinge the workplace or critically detract from sub-unit tempo. Taking some time for yourself only serves to strengthen the sub-unit because you will be a more balanced and centered individual.