This week, we speak to Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Benjamin Wong Toon Wah, Head Organising Secretariat (Hd OS), NDP2023 and Hd Intelligence Branch, Headquarters (HQ) Singapore Combat Engineers (SCE). Let’s find out what it takes for LTC Wong to help run NDP23 smoothly!
Learning journey as Head of Organising Secretariat of NDP23
What does your role as Head of the Organising Secretariat entail, and what are some of the key challenges you have encountered in the lead up to the National Day Parade 2023?
I am grateful and humbled to be appointed the Hd OS for NDP23 to assist Chairman of the Executive Committee (EXCO).
I have three key responsibilities. Firstly, my role requires me to initiate the planning and preparation process by creating broad plans for approval. Secondly, I am responsible for engaging the different stakeholders to secure the necessary resources. Lastly, I oversee, coordinate, and synchronise plans across multiple committees to ensure a successful show.
LTC Wong (middle) holding the Final Coordination Conference (FCC) before one of the National Education (NE) shows
To fulfill these responsibilities, I lead and manage the OS team by setting goals and responsibilities, and ensuring efficient operations. To ensure everyone is working towards the same objectives, I emphasise the need for effective communication. Good problem-solving skills are required to address issues when they arise and to find practical solutions. Ensuring that the quality of work produced by the secretariat meets organisational standards and expectations is another critical aspect of this role.
As the Hd OS, the role is demanding and complex due to various challenges. Some common challenges I faced include time management, resource allocation, coordination and communication, stakeholder expectations, legal and regulatory compliance, and work-life balance.
LTC Wong (left) discussing plans with the organising committee
Managing the secretariat's operations involves handling multiple tasks with strict deadlines, making effective time management crucial to ensure everything runs smoothly and on schedule. Balancing and allocating resources, including budget and manpower, can be challenging, especially with competing priorities and given limited resources.
Working with multiple committees and stakeholders can also be challenging, especially when there are communication gaps or conflicting interests. That's why I believe effective communication is crucial to sure that everyone is informed and on the same page. When dealing with different stakeholders, each with their expectations and demands, it is essential to navigate carefully to maintain positive relationships and meet everyone’s needs.
Additionally, organising events and managing secretariat operations can be demanding, often requiring long hours. Despite the challenges, it has been an enriching experience. I believe effective leadership, problem-solving skills, and adaptability are vital to overcome these challenges. I strive to ensure successful outcomes, as it impacts not only the organisation, stakeholders but also all Singaporeans who look forward to NDP23.
One who wears different hats
Can you share the main differences between your regular and NDP appointment and how you balance your responsibilities?
My primary job is the Head Intelligence Branch for Headquarters Singapore Combat Engineers, which is fundamentally different from my role in NDP23. While both appointments come with their respective challenges, the Hd OS job is more demanding due to time limitations and public sensitivities.
Balancing work commitments as the Hd OS and my responsibilities in the military can be challenging. However, I find that with effective time management and organisation, it is possible to find a balance. Here are some strategies which helped me:
LTC Wong (second from left) at HQ SCE
It is essential for me to define my priorities clearly and to understand the significance of each role. This enables me to distinguish between tasks that require immediate attention and those that can be delegated or handled later. Additionally, I created a thorough schedule that encompasses all responsibilities, as it is important to allocate specific time blocks for each task and adhere to the schedule as closely as possible. Grouping meetings and allowing for some free time to handle unexpected events can also be beneficial. In order for my team to operate efficiently, it was crucial that I delegated tasks effectively. This also meant coaching my team members to handle their specific responsibilities, which would alleviate some of the workload and enable me to concentrate on more pressing matters.
Day in the Life of Hd OS NDP23
Please walk us through a day in the life of a Hd OS during a NDP Rehearsal
On a typical NDP rehearsal day, I started off in the morning by organising the Final Coordination Conference to synchronise and receive just-in-time updates from the committees before the start of the day's show. I also coordinate and synchronise rehearsal windows for the different committees, staff Chairman EXCO for his visits and engagements to the various committees, staff Chairman EXCO to host VIPs for visits to NDP, and assist Chairman EXCO in his briefs to VIPs. Additionally, I attend the full-cue run to take notes on points for improvement.
LTC Wong observing rehearsals for the NE Show
Personal and professional growth
How has your role in this year's NDP helped in your personal and professional growth, and what are some initiatives you undertake to ensure that the NDP runs smoothly?
I am learning and enjoying the process each day. As Hd OS, I am exposed to the highest management level to understand their considerations on different matters. I also have opportunities to engage senior members from the SAF and external ministries throughout this journey. As the Head OS for NDP 2023, I implemented several initiatives to ensure a smooth working process. These include anticipating potential issues and preparing for them in advance, actively engaging with and listening to committee members to understand their concerns and acting as a conduit between them and the core team. Additionally, we fostered a sense of camaraderie and teamwork inspired by the closely-knit family culture of the Engineer Formation. This culture was extended to all committees, both internal and external, and helped to ensure that they could rely on each other to cover any blind spots and resolve problems effectively.
LTC Wong (left) observing the full NE Show
The NDP Experience
Can you share more about your NDP journey and what does NDP means to you?
A memorable moment I had was our first media event (Media Event 1), where our theme, concept and theme song were released to the public. It was a rewarding and satisfying experience to see our efforts come to fruition. Another unforgettable moment was our first full-dress Combined Rehearsal (CR1) at the Padang. We were able to witness the tangible results of our hard work, which brought us a feeling of warmth, comfort, and satisfaction.
NDP holds a significant meaning for us Singaporeans, as it reaffirms our national identity. It serves as a reminder not to take our independence for granted. Personally, I make it a point to watch it every year as I am proud of my country and her accomplishments. I hope this sense of belonging, identity and patriotism will continue to be strong for generations to come.
LTC Wong (top right) bonding with members of the organising committee (credit: Robin Ng, NDP Official Chief Photographer)
I am grateful for this incredible journey. It's an honour to collaborate with the most remarkable organising secretariat team! Let's persist in our efforts to provide all Singaporeans with a National Day that they will cherish. Onward as One!
✍️ : LCP Nigel Ang (Army News)
📷 : PTE Hong Soo Yong (Army News) and contributed by LTC Wong