New Leadership in Suicide Prevention
21 May 2018 at 8:36 am
Nieves Murray is the new CEO of Suicide Prevention Australia, and boasts extensive leadership experience across multiple sectors. She is this week’s Changemaker.
Murray began her career in the 1980s as a Bluescope steel trainee engineer – one of only a handful of female engineers employed in steel manufacturing at the time.
After studying psychology at the University of Wollongong, she began a successful leadership career in local government and community-owned organisations.
From 2006 to 2017 Murray served as CEO of aged care provider IRT Group, and she has also held non-executive leadership roles in sectors including financial services, tertiary education, property development and retail.
On 14 May, Murray was announced as the new CEO of Suicide Prevention Australia, a peak body for the suicide prevention sector.
Murray, who is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and fellow of the Australian Institute of Managers and Leaders, was named one of Australia’s 100 Most Influential Women by the Australian Financial Review in 2013.
In this week’s Changemaker, Murray discusses the leadership approach she intends to take at SPA, explains her immediate priorities as CEO and reveals her new passion for playing the harp.
What drew you to this role at SPA?
Well firstly it was the cause. I spent six years as a counsellor with Lifeline, and one of the things that I have become increasingly passionate about is the fact that everybody in the community can play a role in preventing suicide. So, I suppose it was the applicability of the topic to significant societal change that we can all play a role in.
You have held leadership roles across a number of organisations. Will this new role require a different leadership approach to what you have taken previously?
Most definitely. Suicide Prevention Australia is a peak body and so fundamentally my role will be very much focused on listening and hearing the issues of our members. And also listening and learning from our lived experience network to inform policy and to raise those issues with policymakers and governments and politicians to ensure that funding and programs are developed in a way that makes communities – in their own way – sustainable in dealing with suicide prevention.
Incoming CEO @nievesmurray comes to the sector with more than thirty years’ experience in the social sciences and a passion for enabling vulnerable people to have more choice and control over how they live their lives. https://t.co/xJ0j5QfSS7 @GregHuntMP
— SuicidePreventionAUS (@SuicidePrevAU) May 14, 2018
What will be your immediate priorities as you commence as CEO?
Definitely having conversations with our members and getting an understanding of what their major issues are. And also helping to craft appropriate policy positions so that we can take those to government and create clarity around what the sector needs to support it in doing its work.
Then my second priority, which is at the same level of importance as the first priority, is to get a very clear understanding of the learnings that our lived experience networks provide.
What do you think the big challenges in the mental health space are at the moment?
Well it’s interesting because I think one of the things that we often think is that suicide prevention is about addressing the issues of mental health and that alone. And certainly our position at Suicide Prevention Australia is that mental health is an important component in suicide prevention, but it’s not the only social determinant that leads to suicide.
It is a much broader perspective than just mental health. One of the key aspects of providing good quality suicide prevention is ensuring that programs help provide skills to communities and/or organisations around suicide prevention.
Just last week, the federal minister for health launched a suicide prevention hub which aims to provide a continuous improvement and a quality framework for programs, such that people in the community and services can access programs that have gone through an evaluation process. This gives a level of confidence that the program will meet the needs of the community.
Do you think awareness and understanding of suicide prevention has improved in recent years?
Look I think there’s certainly a greater focus. But I still think we have a long way to go in raising the community’s awareness of suicidal issues and suicide prevention. And this is a whole of society issue, it’s not [just about] a subset of society.
My predominant background has been in the aged care sector and we’re seeing increased incidence of suicidal behaviour for older people. So certainly what’s important is increasing awareness, and giving the community and people in the community the tools to better connect with their peers and their colleagues and their friends and their neighbours. One of the social determinants that often leads to suicide is social isolation. So how do we create communities that are resilient and able to connect with one another?
It’s not just about the clinical aspects of suicide prevention, but it’s about the societal and community aspects of helping people connect, making communities resilient and ensuring that people have the tools to be able to have a deeper conversation… when somebody might be at risk of suicidal behaviour.
Congratulations Nieves Murray on your appointment to such a pivotal role leading SPA. I look forward to collaborating with you! https://t.co/4jOUJrWB8v
— Catherine Lourey (@CatherineLourey) May 14, 2018
How do you think a typical day will look like for you in this new role?
Clearly there’s a number of stakeholders that I need to engage with on a regular basis, and that would be our members most definitely, and certainly politicians and bureaucrats. There’s a number of consultations currently occurring in the mental health space and clearly participating in those conversations is important for me.
Also important is actively talking about the topic of suicide prevention with every available medium, so that we’re better at increasing awareness in the broader community about issues to do with suicide prevention.
How do you find time for yourself and what do you like to do in your spare time?
I’ve been a lifelong learner, so I’m currently learning the harp. That’s one of the things that keeps me going when I’m not busy either with my role here at Suicide Prevention Australia or on my boards.
But I think like most people in a leadership position, it’s almost a responsibility to continue to participate in things outside of your day job and use your leadership skills to build other organisations and that’s certainly how I see it. I see it as my responsibility to use my skills to either raise awareness of issues or to improve the way organisations operate.
After a long career, how do you keep yourself motivated?
I’ve only just started in this role at Suicide Prevention Australia and I feel like I’ve got a renewed vigour about my leadership and am eagerly hungry to learn more. So really it is about stretching yourself outside of your comfort zone, taking the opportunity to step into something that you don’t know and continuing to learn. For me that’s what keeps me motivated, literally stretching myself beyond my comfort zone every day.
Is there anything you’re reading, watching or listening to at the moment?
Well I have to say right at the moment I’m totally swamped in reading [documents] around mental health reviews, suicide prevention papers and so forth, just immersing myself totally in the sector and the issues associated with suicide prevention. So that is certainly keeping me out of trouble at the moment.