Are Government Leaders Getting the Professional Growth They Want?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The theme of the April issue of  The Public Manager focuses on how to provide government senior executives the skills they need. One thing is clear: leaders want professional growth. But when we take a closer look at whether they have access to the myriad knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform successfully, the picture gets a little hazy.    

No doubt, the SES is going through a tough time. Amid major retirements, there seems to be very little interest from federal employees to move up in the ranks. Consequently, President Obama’s December 2015 Executive Order Strengthening the SES calls for reforms for the SES, including better personal development opportunities. However, members of the Senior Executive Service aren't getting the training they need or want, according to Training and Development for the Senior Executive Service: A Necessary Investment, a new Merit Systems Protection Board report. 

In April’s cover story, “Bridging the SES Skills Gap,” MSPB analysts Laura Shugrue and J. Peter Leeds report that executives perceived developmental assignments and resident development programs the most effective for their personal development, but only a small portion of leaders participated in these types of activities. Online training courses had the highest participation, but the lowest reported effectiveness. 

Not surprisingly, respondents to the OPM survey identified several reasons for their lack of development, such as inability to take time away from the job (70 percent), lack of funding (67 percent), and lack of support from superiors (47 percent). How can government turn around these numbers? 

“Top leadership support is essential for improving T&D in the SES. Leaders must create an organizational culture that encourages continuous learning,” write Shugrue and Leeds. The MSPB analysts say that federal leaders can create an organizational culture that encourages continuous learning by communicating support orally and in writing and modeling the behavior they expect to see, such as completing EDPs and taking time themselves for training. 


Another key element is flexibility in learning and development opportunities. To leverage this factor, agencies can take advantage of the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia. FEI is a flexible blended learning program that helps leaders build real-world crisis-management skills. This hybrid educational experience consists of two weeks of in-residence instruction followed by six months of distance learning, during which participants apply their learning to their work in the field. 

"We want people to have choices, to be able to chart their own course in terms of their learning, and we want people to feel they are learning about things that best fit their needs," says FEI dean of faculty Greg Gifford in The Public Manager article “A Blended Approach to Leadership Training.” 

Gifford adds that instruction needs to be immediately applicable to the participants' on-the-job responsibilities. "We were purposeful in ensuring that our instructors were using case studies and other types of methodologies that would help people make the bridge between what might be some otherwise theoretical, academic type of material and the actual practical things that were going on in their offices," he says. 


To learn more about the MSPB study and the FEI program, check out the April issue of The Public Manager. Here’s how you can access this issue:

Download the ATD Publications app to your mobile device or tablet. Find it in the Apple app store or Google Play by searching for “ATD Publications.” Open the app, login with your ATD account, and click The Public Manager cover to access the current issue of your subscription.

To access your subscription from your desktop, go to, where you can view the current issue in the e-reader.


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About the Author

Roxy Torres is a former senior manager at ATD, where she ran the FIRE, sales enablement, and government content areas. For the Sales Enablement Community, Roxy spearheaded the 2015 update of the ATD World-Class Sales Competency Model. Prior to joining ATD, Roxy held various roles in business development and sales enablement at CEB (now Gartner).

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