Career profile. Shaka Obhiozele

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What was your journey to the position you hold now?

I initially trained as a lawyer with ambitions to become a barrister with an interest in commercial law. It played to my strengths in terms of being able to think things through logically and being able to verbalise arguments but unfortunately it came to a point where I wasn’t able to take it forward and so I had to pivot and think about what else I would enjoy doing. I hit upon a career in the civil service working for the Ministry Of Defence, which allowed me to leverage the training that I had and fulfilled my interest in public service roles. The department was vast so there were lots of different roles that I could take on. I was fortunate enough to get onto a development scheme working on commercial procurement. I then moved to Whitehall as a Private Secretary to a Director General which opened up  a whole new avenue of opportunities. I spent about 10 years working in different policy and operational roles before relocating with my family from London to Oxford.

I was attracted to a role working in the Planning and Council Secretariat overseeing committees with responsibilities for the Universities capital buildings in 2015. I was fortunate enough to be promoted in post a couple of times. I then got to the point where I wanted to do something a bit more operational and broaden my line management skills and that’s when the role as Private Secretary to the Registrar came up. I felt that I could add value to the role and I was in a position to give more of myself to work having moved to Oxford and reduced my commute. It’s been a really interesting time working with the Registrar. I have learnt a huge amount from her and have found it fascinating to see the full breadth of issues that she gets involved in. It has also provided me with a tremendous insight into the diversity of activities that are carried out by the University.

Later on, in 2020, an opportunity arose to apply for a HAF role in Paediatrics. This appealed to my wider career aspirations to take on a more operational role in a department.

What does your current role involve?

In my role as Private Secretary to the Registrar I have been involved in the delivery of strategic projects and preparing correspondence for internal or external parties. The role required me to quickly familiarise myself with a broad range of topics. It is always helpful to call on experts in order to confidently feed back to the Registrar to enable decision making. Another key skill that is valuable in this role is the ability to join things up and quickly identify key issues and information required to assist decision making on a given issue. Usually there is a requirement to do this in parallel with a number of topics concurrently and whilst managing a team of people providing secretarial support. 

What elements of your current role do you enjoy the most?

It’s a demanding role but has played to my strengths in terms of being able to multitask and move freely between different topics. The variety of the role was really interesting. It was like being in a library full of books, with each book representing a completely different policy area! 

What are you looking forward to in your new role? 

I am now looking forward to my next challenge and taking up a post as HAF in the Department of Paediatrics. This will give me a sense of ownership with more latitude, individual responsibility and accountability for decision making. I am excited about the challenge as I’ve always felt that your ability to grow directly correlates to your willingness to put yourself in unfamiliar situations. During my career I have not always chosen the easiest option, but often the one that will lead to the greatest opportunity for personal and professional growth.

I am excited about the challenge as I’ve always felt that your ability to grow directly correlates to your willingness to put yourself in unfamiliar situations.

 What are your career highlights?

When I was working in the Planning and Council Secretariat I thought there were a few things that we could do differently to improve the development of the Universities capital planning process. There were a number of different stakeholders and I enjoyed building a coalition of people who were willing to move in a new direction. The challenge was communicating the need for change and the likely benefits and, all the while, trying to keep the show on the road. We ultimately got approval and sign off for the changes and it was fantastically rewarding to have played a part in bringing this change about. The success was built on the ability to bring people together, build a coalition, service the coalition, maintain momentum and remove obstacles. A previous boss advised me always to have an eye on the WIFIM factor (what’s in it for me) meaning that you have to align an individual’s personal interests and the end state of the goal that you are trying to achieve. This lesson has served me well in my career.

What career advice would you give to your past self?

Some opportunities may not evolve as you might expect them to but I have always taken the view that one door has to close for another to open.  I’ve always tried to prioritise the things that will help me achieve personal and professional growth. By accident or design I have had the privilege of trying out different things. I started out thinking I would be an expert in an area and have now become more of a generalist. My previous self may have been disappointed by that but it has worked out because I have remained receptive to new opportunities coming in.

What career advice would you offer to your colleagues?

I have been incredibly fortunate to have people around me who exemplify professionalism in their field and I’ve always gravitated to people like that and sought out their views and considered what I can learn from them. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a natural networker in the traditional sense, but I am very comfortable with finding people who I consider to be doing an excellent job and making them an ally, learning from their career experiences and taking their advice on my professional development.

I have also sought out and been receptive to feedback. I would definitely advise people to put aside their squeamishness and invite feedback (even in an informal capacity) as it provides a rich source for reflection and learning.

I would encourage colleagues to take personal responsibility to reach out and meet with colleagues and share experiences and feedback. It can be hard to develop and move into different roles without these connections.

I would encourage colleagues to take personal responsibility to reach out and meet with colleagues and share experiences and feedback

What lessons have you learnt form the workplace changes imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic?

One of the most difficult experiences during lockdown can be that the boundaries between home and working life are blurred and it is really important for your sanity and for the sanity of your family to try to be a bit disciplined about when you are in work verses family mode. So being disciplined with your time is essential. Also when working remotely it is important to have regular chats and conversations with members of your team, it doesn’t always have to be about work but just checking in with someone regularly is even more important when there aren’t natural opportunities for conversations like passing in the kitchen. It’s important to maintain those relationships. 

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