Woman O'Shannassy, Kelly-Ann

Environmentalist, Policy-maker and Scientist

Written by Judy Lambert (edited from blogs prepared by Jane Elix), Australian National University

Kelly O'Shanassy was born in Geelong, Victoria in 1970. Her parents (a policeman and a teacher) were people committed to giving back to society, a quality that she describes as having defined her values. When Kelly was 12 her family moved to the country. There, the impacts of drought on the natural and human environment made a big impression on her.

Kelly was the first in her family to go to university, completing a Science Honours degree with a focus on river processes. Her professional career began in a privatised government organisation that became a consultancy business. From there she moved to the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA), where she quickly progressed to a management position in water policy development. At the EPA, Kelly was invited to be part of a 6-month leadership and management training course run by Fabian Dattner. The course gave her an understanding of her own and others' ways of making decisions and helped her work with and manage other people - an experience she describes as a huge turning point in her life.

In 2004, Kelly was seconded to the Department of Sustainability and the Environment, to work on Victoria's Environmental Sustainability framework. She describes this 18 months as a difficult period, during which she sought advice on management problems from a coach. Kelly went on to manage a joint venture for the water industry in Melbourne, developing and running a 50-year water management strategy. In this position, she was working with four different Managing Directors and four very different Boards - an experience she really enjoyed.

In 2007, Kelly became CEO of Environment Victoria, the peak environmental organisation in the state. In this position, she has worked to build the organisation a sound financial base and to have people valued for their position on the environment and encouraged to take the next step along a continuum of environmental awareness. In 2012 she is the only female CEO among the state-based conservation councils.

Asked about differences between men and women leaders in the environment movement, Kelly observed that men put their comments forward all the time, demonstrating greater levels of ego. By contrast, she sees women getting held back in leadership when they have children. She describes the toll of leadership as high, because as a leader you are always thinking about the impact you are having on other people. While fully committed to an advocacy role because of the rewards of seeing change in attitudes and behaviour to which she has contributed, Kelly is also very clear that she does not want to be adversarial in her leadership.

Published Resources

Online Resources

See also

Digital Resources

10: Kelly O'Shanassy: Environment Victoria
Audio Visual