Survey: Senior Executives Underequipped to Drive Agency Change
A first-of-its-kind survey conducted by the Senior Executives Association (SEA) and Deloitte demonstrates a wide statistical gap between federal senior executives’ understanding of their responsibilities – which results show remains fairly consistent across agencies – and how equipped and supported they feel they are in carrying out those responsibilities. The State of Career Federal Leadership Survey is the first to focus exclusively on career executives in the top levels of government and demonstrates a high number of those polled – a sample set consisting of 750 federal leaders (primarily members of the Senior Executive Service and SES-equivalents) – feel under-supported in carrying out their missions at federal agencies.
The report “highlights areas of concern for federal leaders as they implement change at their agencies,” according to a released statement accompanying the survey results. An examination of the survey data revealed three primary areas of concern senior leaders felt should be addressed in driving transformation at their respective agencies:
Leadership pipeline: Of those surveyed, only 22 percent felt their agency is well prepared to retain top talent. Survey respondents felt an increased focus on soft skills will likely be required to lead federal agencies moving forward. Roughly three-quarters (76 percent) of respondents said there are exciting opportunities for workers of all ages, but less than half believe current leaders understand how to effectively manage a multigenerational workforce.
Executive readiness: Preparing existing leaders for the changing needs of their agencies and roles is not being addressed equally across agencies, according to respondents. A stronger focus on making agency leaders life-long learners can help keep them at the forefront of innovation.
Transformational leadership: Federal leaders surveyed highlighted a growing concern in the federal space that leaders are not prepared for the future workforce, citing cultural and digital barriers. Furthermore, only 28 percent of respondents felt their agencies had systems in place to enable knowledge-sharing across senior leaders.
The survey asked respondents for additional feedback, reportedly receiving many comments, including one anonymous senior leader’s suggestion that, “Leadership skills are needed to drive innovative problem solving, but technology at my agency is still stuck in the 1990s and early 2000s.”
SEA and Deloitte also suggested several steps to better enable improvements within agencies, including increased use of “evidence-based assessments to help identify high-potential individuals with leadership skills,” rather than a heavy focus on technical expertise.”
The organization also suggests designing programs in such a way that they “build leadership capabilities through challenging experiences and frequent exposure to diverse leaders inside and outside the organization,” as well as focusing more resources “on re-evaluating the work and the workforce of tomorrow in order to make hiring decisions as opposed to just filling open needs.”
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