Head of Profession: Cliff Gay

Large version of profile picture for Cliff Gay, the Government Statistical Service (GSS) Head of Profession (HoP) at the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Cliff Gay is the Government Statistical Service (GSS) Head of Profession (HoP) at the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

My biggest work-related accomplishment

A few years ago the FSA was shortlisted for a Civil Service award for our work in reducing the level of campylobacter in chicken. Two of the most important factors to our success were effective cross-disciplinary working and use of evidence. These two attributes are important for any kind of sustained success as a statistician, especially in an organisation like the FSA which has a broad base of science and evidence inputs.

If I could only produce one piece of work next year

Our revamped flagship survey, ‘Food and You 2’, is now into its second year. The survey is led by social researchers, with the support of FSA statisticians. One of the most important statistical objectives of the survey is to help consolidate the success of the first year, while improving the reproducibility and efficiency of the statistical production process. This includes improving the efficiency of data validation and reporting.

Why I chose a career in statistics

I have always been fascinated by numbers and their importance in measuring, validating and comparing things. The great thing about my career in statistics is that I have been able to apply this fascination to so many important real world entities, across a range of scientific domains. It has never got boring.

The best skills I bring to the job

I think of statistics as being at the boundary between the arts and science. It is important to understand numbers, and their policy or scientific context, and then turn this into words that people can understand. Without good collaborative and communication skills, statistics are not as effective. I like to think that I have a good blend of numbers and word skills, without being a genius at either.

One thing I wish I knew before I joined the Civil Service

I did not appreciate quite what a fabulous cross-government statistics network we have. I began my career classified as a ‘scientific officer’ rather than a ‘statistical officer’. This meant that I worked for 15 years or more in roles where I was benefiting from the goodwill and great expertise that exists across the GSS. That was to my detriment. I would advise others to embrace the richness that is the GSS.

The biggest influence on my approach to work

I am naturally a bit of a statistics nerd. Various people, both at university and in my early career, encouraged me to develop my theoretical and statistical computing skills. It was not until I was in my 40s that I had a manager who really helped me to develop my people management skills and the attitudes that go along with these skills. I would not pretend to be a perfect team leader, but as there are so many attributes needed to be an effective team leader, is there any such thing? I would suggest that the best path for personal development is study the management styles of a number of different leaders, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of each.

My life as a book

If I had a to write a book about my life, it would be called “I’ve started so I’ll finish”. I say this because I think inertia is often our greatest enemy. It certainly is mine. I doubt I will ever get round to writing the book. Maybe that is best for everyone.

The person I admire

I admire Bob Geldof. He was my hero as a teenager in the late 1970s. I loved his showmanship and the mischievous energy of his songs with the Boomtown Rats. Then in the mid 1980s he was the main force behind the ‘Live Aid’ benefit concerts that raised money for starving people in Africa. He is certainly not somebody who is allows inertia or apathy to suppress him!