Tan Yong Liang

Head Operations, Ang Mo Kio Division, SPF - Public Service Commission

Year Awarded Scholarship: 2007
Scholarship Scheme: Singapore Police Force Overseas Scholarship
Undergraduate University: Stanford University
Undergraduate Course: BA in Economics
Postgraduate University: London School of Economics and Political Science
Postgraduate Course: MSc in Management and Economics

1. What sparked your interest in the PSC Scholarships and the Public Service?

I enjoy community service and have been deeply involved in grassroots and youth-related work since my secondary school and junior college (JC) days. I felt that a PSC scholarship would offer the opportunity to continue this service and be involved in work that has real public impact. Initially, I was deciding between a police scholarship and a teaching scholarship. After undergoing an attachment with the Home Team in JC, I was inspired by the work the Home Team does. I developed a sense of determination and duty to keep Singapore free from criminal harm and to maintain the safety and security of our home.

2. What are your responsibilities at work? Have there been surprises along the way - an unexpected observation, an epiphany, or a defining moment?

I am responsible for all operational matters in my division’s jurisdiction, including incident management, frontline policing, divisional operations room and lockup, major event deployments and security. I also serve as the link between Police headquarters and the ground, by timely channeling ground feedback upwards, and by making sense of and communicating HQ’s intent and new policies to the ground.

Public Service, in particular policing work, is highly unpredictable. Public sector leaders need to deal with difficult incidents and ever-changing circumstances. For instance, I supported my Commander during the 17-hour standoff situation at Sembawang in September 2016. My team and I had to dynamically plan the operational, logistical and manpower requirements as the incident unfolded. We were under intense media and public scrutiny throughout the incident. After prolonged negotiations, the command elements identified the right opportunity to raid the unit. It was deeply satisfying when the hostage taker was successfully arrested and the two-year-old boy he was holding onto was rescued unharmed.

3. What are some of the challenges you have faced at work and how have you overcome them?

First and foremost, when dealing with any issue, we should consult widely and secure as much first-hand information and data as possible. This will help us make sense of the situation and lead us towards more sensible decisions. However, one of the real challenges I face is that despite intensive planning and brainstorming, due to imperfect information or human error, at times there may be unforeseen events or disruptions that will thwart our original plans. It will then take guts, strong leadership and cool-headedness to admit that we could have done better, to re-evaluate the issue from first principles, and to question and question before deciding on the next moves. The gravest mistakes are to make assumptions on fundamental issues and to be hidebound in our approach to solving issues.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job? What is the most fulfilling part of it?

I thoroughly enjoy interacting with my officers and deeply respect the work they do. There is so much to learn from them – they are the experts in operating the command and control system, in using the equipment issued to them, or in navigating the complex government procurement processes, among others. It takes deliberate and extensive effort to understand how the ground works and the pain points the officers encounter. Whenever ground concerns are addressed through workflow improvements or equipment enhancements, which make the job of my officers easier, and which ultimately leads to more effective or efficient policing, there is a great sense of pride and fulfilment in my work.

5. What advice would you give to someone considering whether to apply for a PSC scholarship?

An effective public service leader needs to first and foremost have the heart to serve the public. Second, he needs to be physically and mentally resilient to be able to deal with the demanding work and exacting public expectations. Lastly, he needs to possess strong reasoning skills, leadership, teamwork and adaptability to effectively solve complex public policy issues and manage difficult incidents.