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Developing the SES: Q&A With MSPB’s Jim Read

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A recent report from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), Training and Development for the Senior Executive Service: A Necessary Investment, reveals that members of the Senior Executive Service aren't getting the training and development they need. In the April issue of The Public Manager, MSPB Senior Research Analyst Laura Shugrue and J. Peter Leeds, a research psychologist with MSPB’s Office of Policy and Evaluation, present highlights from the data in the article “Bridging the SES Skills Gap.” 

The research revealed that only 50 percent of career senior executives in the federal service lack an executive development plan (EDP). TPM, interviewed Jim Read, director of policy and evaluation at MSPB, about some key takeaways from this research into training and professional development needs among members of the Senior Executive Service. 

Read tells TPM the reason for the underwhelming EDP stat is simple: the requirement for an EDP is not well-publicized. In addition, Read explains that in some instances supervisors may be reluctant to put a plan on paper because it commits future resources and time that may not be available.  

“Formalizing a plan is often seen as a strategic mistake,” says Read. This sentiment underscores the essential problem with the SES training. What’s more, it highlights the need for what Read calls a “systematic, uniform approach” to developing federal career executives. 


Indeed, Read cannot overstate the importance of better developing career senior executives. He reminds listeners that they are “impact players in the federal government.” In practical terms, about one-third of them manage more than 200 employees, and many are responsible for budgets of over $100 million. With that in mind, the MSPB report concludes that the government should focus on developing these leaders in stewardship.

“Federal leaders have a responsibility to ensure that government resources are used effectively and efficiently,” says Read. No doubt, better trained career executives will help.   

In addition, Read points out that the SES are really at the “friction point” of an agency’s mission, action, and accountability. These players are the link between political appointees and career civil servants. They also become the caretakers during times of transition, such as directly following an election. That position comes with a lot of power, but also a lot of responsibility. You want someone who has been adequately trained and developed holding the reigns, explains Read. 

Listen to The Public Manager podcast interview with Jim Read for more about the research into SES training and development.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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