Cross-Sector Leaders

Based at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, my PhD research is focused on collaboration between industry, research and government. I am particularly interested in speaking with cross-sector leaders (professionals concurrently working across the three sectors).


Effective collaboration across industry, research, and government is a key focus area for public policy. Leaders concurrently engaging in a range of appointments across the sectors can provide an important means of facilitating greater cross-sector collaboration. This research seeks to better understand cross-sector leaders (CSLs), including how and why leaders develop successful cross-sector careers, key characteristics of CSL, and what the implications are for the future work. Following archival research to identify CSLs, initial profiling and screening will be conducted to finalise a list of candidates to take part in semi-structured interviews and the completion of an adaptability diagnostic. From this, hypotheses will be developed.


The role and objectives of industry, research and government are overlapping and intersecting. Effective policy development is difficult to achieve without a sound appreciation of how it will impact different sectors, and the potential benefits from industry-researcher collaboration are significant. In a well-functioning model, information, ideas and people would flow freely between well integrated sectors. However research isn’t always translated into practice, with limited opportunity for industry to input into what key areas could most benefit from further research. The challenge for policy makers is to sift through often conflicting input to determine what represents the best outcome, without being unduly swayed by special interest groups.

Extensive research has been undertaken highlighting the barriers that exist for effective cross-sector collaboration. Each sector has different drivers, timeframes, success measures, language, processes and so on which can be difficult for outsiders to understand and learn to work within. There is an overwhelming amount of information available to anyone seeking to better understand different sectors, however given the level of complexity that needs to be simply conveyed, and that democratisation of publishing now means anyone (regardless of any knowledge, expertise or qualification) can add to this knowledgebase, sifting through to find the information that matters is difficult.

Despite the challenges outlined above, two factors driving greater collaboration are:

  • The blurring of sectoral boundaries
  • Cross-sector leaders
Cross-sector Leaders

As boundaries become increasingly porous, an ability to operate across the sectors grows ever more important. This research aims to better understand cross-sector leaders (CSLs), those professionals who operate across industry, research and government, often simultaneously (or frequent cycling between), bringing their knowledge and networks to each organisation they engage with. These boundary-spanning professionals play an important role in fostering and supporting cross-sector collaboration.

Research Questions
  1. How and why do leaders develop cross-sector?
  2. What are the key characteristics of cross-sector leaders?
  3. What are the implications for the future of work?
Supervisory Panel

Professor Helen Sullivan (Chair)
Director, Crawford School of Public Policy
Australian National University

Professor Sue Stocklmayer AO
Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science
Australian National University

Professor Bob Williamson
College of Engineering and Computer Science
Australian National University