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LIV Leaders: Elissa Watson, General Manager Compliance, LIV

LIV Leaders: Elissa Watson, General Manager Compliance, LIV

By Melissa Lirosi



Our final LIV Leader is Elissa Watson, General Manager Professional Practice & Compliance. We had a chat to Elissa about her career highlights, and the advice she has for women moving into positions of leadership.

Can you give us an overview of your career and let us know some of the highlights?

Whilst studying, I worked in the Office of General Counsel at a large public company on a project that overhauled the organisation’s statutory compliance policies for code of conduct, OH&S, harassment & discrimination, and advertising. The project team developed a four-hour scenario based workshop and we delivered training around the country to 10,000 staff.  After 20 years, I still consider that program to be first class and it started me on the path to advocacy and regulatory compliance.

Following my admission, I spent four years in private practice as a solicitor advocate in crime and the Children’s Court. Professionally, it was a baptism by fire dealing with clients who were more versed in the law than me, and I used to get very nervous appearing in court. But I learned so much and was lucky to work with such a talented group of solicitors and barristers.

My first formal leadership role was as VLA’s Managing Lawyer in Gippsland. The staff were quite junior (as was I) and there were some legacy challenges with our engagement with the private profession. I was fortunate to have a Regional Director who allowed me the space to make the role my own. It took time, but I am proud of the high standards of advice and advocacy we achieved, and ultimately our ability to work closely with local practitioners to deliver such quality access to justice for the region. At this time I was also elected to the LIV Council where I served two and a half terms before going to the Bar.

The Bar allowed me to hone my advocacy skills for a couple of years, until personal circumstances forced a rethink of my career. I moved into regulation, initially at WorkSafe where I established the fatalities prosecution and coronial unit, and then leading AHPRA’s Victorian legal practice in the regulation of health practitioners.

I am approaching three years at the LIV and oversee our delivery of delegated regulatory functions to the VLSB+C for trust account investigations and education, compliance audits, CPD complianceand certificates of fitness. I am also accountable for the Professional Standards Scheme, a self-regulatory framework that assists members to manage their professional and practice risk.

How do you approach leadership in your role at the LIV?

I am a collaborative leader and build teams with complementary skills and expertise to me. I keep an open mind and don’t presume to have all the answers, but am comfortable making difficult decisions when they are required. I am flexible and supportive, but expect people to take ownership, and do their job to the best of their ability.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a leader and how have you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges is transitioning from being a technical expert – letting go of the need to be across the detail and delegating with clarity so team members have the space to develop their own skills.

Also, learning to be patient and focusing on the long game, so that I can be proactive and  strategic, and not fall into the trap of reacting to daily operational issues that may have limited consequence in the long-term.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned in your career?

To apply the oxygen mask theory! I can only be effective in my job if I make time to nourish my physical and emotional wellbeing, and create space for reflection and perspective.  For me, that means committing to regular yoga and meditation, getting outdoors, maintaining an active interest in what is going on in the wider world, and spending time with the people that are important to me.

What advice would you give women looking to move into positions of leadership?

Back yourself – be bold andbrave, and solution-focused.  Treat your networks with respect. Keep an open-mind  and be open to where you talents, passion and opportunity can take you. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and develop new skills.


To learn more from inspiring women leaders come to our Women in Leadership Conference on Wednesday 23 May.

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