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Posted by on Sep 18, 2019

Qualities of the Ideal Federal Leader

Qualities of the Ideal Federal Leader

One of the three key drivers of transformation named in the 2019 President’s Management Agenda (PMA) is realigning human capital to serve America’s priorities for the 21st century. While there is a significant focus on filling technology gaps, several authorities have defined ideal qualities for leaders in the Federal Government.

Source: The President’s Management Agenda

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has designated the following five categories of Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) that are required for consideration in the Senior Executive Service (SES) – most managerial, supervisory, and policy positions classified above General Schedule (GS) grade 15 or equivalent positions in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.

An ideal candidate for the Senior Executive Service is someone who…

  • Leads Change – Brings about strategic change, within and beyond the organization, meets organizational goals, establishes and implements an organizational vision in a continuously changing environment.
  • Leads People – Leads people to meet the vision, mission, and goals of the organization and provides an inclusive workplace that fosters development, facilitates cooperation and teamwork, and supports constructive conflict resolution.
  • Is Results-Driven – Meets organizational goals and customer expectations and makes decisions that produce high-quality results by applying technical knowledge, analyzing problems, and calculating risks.
  • Exhibits Business Acumen – Manages human, financial, and information resources strategically.
  • Builds Coalitions – Achieves common goals by building coalitions internally, with multiple levels of foreign and domestic governments, nonprofits, private sector, and international organizations.

Building on the Foundation
Since the ECQs were established, they have been used as a standard for leadership development throughout the government. For example, OPM has recently published Program and Project Management Competencies that agencies can use to select, assess, and train program and project management talent as required by the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act (PMIAA).

Many of these competencies are identical to those listed in the ECQs. They do, however, include much more emphasis on technical expertise. In addition to 19 technical competencies, an ideal PMIAA-compliant program or project manager is someone who:

  • Has character that is admired by many
  • Exhibits amazing people skills
  • Is an outstanding communicator
  • Possesses technological savvy
  • Understands the big picture
  • Strategically decides on and executes the best course of action

Challenges and Solutions
Recruiting personnel to accomplish the PMA IT modernization goals is proving to be complicated by itself.  When we combine technological expertise requirements with personal characteristics and organization-specific culture fit, the job becomes much more challenging. What are some ways that human resources professionals can attract the best candidates?

On July 30, 2019, Yvonne D. Jones, Director of Strategic Issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), appeared before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate to speak about Improving Federal Recruiting and Hiring Efforts. She explained that the skills gaps played a role in 17 of the 35 governmentwide high-risk areas identified in the 2019 analysis of all Federal high-risk areas. Her testimony about Improving Federal Recruiting and Hiring Efforts included suggestions such as:

  • Managing the timing of recruitment by recruiting continuously
  • Writing user-friendly vacancy announcements through collaboration between hiring managers and human resources staff
  • Leveraging available hiring and pay flexibilities by utilizing special pay authorities that help agencies compete for top talent
  • Increasing support for an inclusive work environment that includes people who have multidisciplinary knowledge to accomplish their missions
  • Encouraging rotations and upward and lateral mobility opportunities

Jones further suggested that, without these measures, the Federal Government’s ability to address the complex social, economic, and security challenges facing the country may be compromised.

In addition to Ms. Jones’ valuable recommendations, OPM provides useful information about Human Capital Management and Hiring Reform with numerous resources for hiring managers and HR professionals. Stay tuned for upcoming in-depth analysis of ideal qualities of the Federal leaders and other human capital insights.


Natalie Komitsky is the Content Marketing Manager at Management Concepts. For more than ten years, she has been creating compelling content that tells stories, communicates ideas, and captivates readers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Nonfiction Writing and Editing from George Mason University.

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