Demonstrating sound judgement

An experience on a coach trip to Sydney illustrates elements of sound judgement.

The coach stops at the international airport terminal before its final stop at Central Station. After leaving the motorway the driver made the customary announcement that we were approaching the airport. After stopping the driver unloaded the luggage. After luggage had been collected by passengers there were two large suitcases standing on the footpath. The driver stepped into the coach, looked to the rear, stepped back to the path, reloaded the suitcases and resumed the drive. About ten minutes later a passenger approached the driver, asking when we’d stop at the airport. The driver told the man that we’d already stopped at the airport and that he had announced it before stopping.

The question is, should the driver have said something when he stepped into the coach at the terminal?

There are several unknowns about this situation. What were the passengers doing prior to arriving, and while stationary, at the terminal? The couple had a fractious young child. Perhaps they were distracted. What did the driver see when he stepped into the coach? Why did he choose not to say anything at the time, given people nominate their stop prior to boarding?

Answers to these unknowns might provide insight into the driver’s decision. On the face of it, given the potential consequences of missing the stop, it’s difficult to understand why the driver didn’t say something. It looks like poor judgement.

What this example does highlight is that supporting a criterion about sound or good judgement requires a situation where a decision is needed that has consequences. Regardless of where you are at in your career, you will have made important life and work decisions that can be used to demonstrate sound judgement.

These include:

  • What and where to study
  • Whether to move location
  • Whether to change roles, industry, sector
  • Whether to take a break from work
  • Whether to go for a promotion
  • Whether to change study course.

When considering an example to demonstrate your ability to make sound judgements, it needs to show the process of making the decision. This process can be split into three stages.

3 Stages in a decision process

The three main stages in the process of making a decision are:

  • Preparation
  • Decision
  • Act.

Most of the effort goes into stages 1 and 3, yet people may mistakenly focus on 2.


Before a decision can be made there is some research and analysis to do. These steps include:

  • Gathering information.
  • Applying own subject matter and professional knowledge.
  • Considering relevant legislation, regulation, policies and procedures.
  • Considering lessons from past experience.
  • Checking facts.
  • Considering relevant goals and objectives.
  • Seeing input from advisors, experts, colleagues.
  • Identifying and naming the issue/s.
  • Weighing up pros and cons.
  • Weighing uncertainties and risks.
  • Considering constraints and resources.
  • Considering potential outcomes and longer-term consequences.
  • Weighing up options.
  • Mobilising support from colleagues, managers, stakeholders.
  • Assessing impact of personal biases.


After assessing the above material, you arrive at a decision about a course of action. The decision may include harnessing and allocating resources – funds, people, information, technology.


What action is taken may depend on the context. You may be taking action yourself, recommending action to others, mobilising resources to execute a plan. If the action involves others, then mobilising their support pre-decision is essential so that supporters can take steps to implement the decision.

As time passes it may become clear that the decision needs amending. While it is common to accuse people of ‘back-flipping’ and not knowing what they are doing, in reality, sticking to a decision in the face of new information shows lack of judgement. Constantly seeking the ‘right’ decision implies that this is a realistic goal and that all other decisions are ‘wrong’. When dealing with complex matters this view is absurd.

We may never know what the ‘best’ decision was and there may be more than one good decision that could be made. Whether a decision was the best one at the time depends on several factors, some of which were taken into account when making the decision: risks, consequences, pros and cons, information, advice. Over time, some of these may change. Such shifts affect implementation of the decision. Not to recognise such changes suggests a lack of astuteness, insight, discernment.

A trap when considering decisions is to focus on the decision. Effective decisions will depend on winning support before the decision, explaining it well at the time of the decision, and continuing to retain support and explain the decision. These steps depend on effective communication and interpersonal skills and an acknowledgement that no one is an island when it comes to getting things done.

APS Capabilities and Standards

Regardless of level, Australian Government public servants are expected to demonstrate the capability ‘Shows judgement, intelligence and commonsense’ as part of ‘Supporting/Shapes Strategic Thinking’. This capability covers research, information gathering, analysis, anticipating risks, identifying solutions to problems.

APS Work Level Standards refer to Decisions and Impact of Decisions Made as two of the factors differentiating job levels. Decisions vary from making decisions based on outcomes, priorities and performance standards [APS1] through to ‘making balanced decisions using professional judgement, evaluating ambiguous and incomplete information, factoring in risks and being sensitive to context’ [EL2]. Impact of decisions ranges from minor impact on work area [APS1] to significant impact on work area and other parts of the agency and/or on the outcome of a program or project [EL2].

These details point to the need to select examples that reflect the complexity and impact of decisions. The more senior the role, the more ambiguous and unclear the information, risks, consequences [including political consequences] and options. Decisions involve weighing up all the factors in the light of relevant information and arriving at a conclusion that could be the ‘least worst’ option.


Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.