by Dr. Michael Schneider, RFG Fellows’ Advisor

Late last spring the Volcker Alliance issued the report Preparing Tomorrow’s Public Service – What The Next Generation Needs. Amid all the public political turmoil, the report didn’t obtain a lot of media coverage. It merits more consideration. The central take-away: communication skills + vision + resilience are vital for success.

The report relied on extensive interviews of government and educational experts, focus groups and a survey of nearly 1,000 rising leaders from all levels of government. Two broad concerns were critical:

  1. “What skills and competencies do rising government leaders believe are most important for effectiveness in their jobs today and in the future?
  2. “What educational and professional development programs can help them as they prepare for leadership in government.”

Among major competency areas identified by rising leaders – the report concludes, “… interpersonal effectiveness and personal resilience – commonly labeled “soft skills” – are essential for effectiveness in public service.

Five broad competency areas with subsets were identified:

  • “Managing your team and yourself,”
  • “Responding to the public,”
  • “Navigating the broader environment,”
  • “Data and technology skills,”  and
  • “Business acumen.”

Out of 20 subsets, the most highly valued were:

  • effective oral communication,
  • project and management acumen,
  • effective written communication under Business Acumen,
  • helping your team to find purpose and be motivated,
  • gaining buy-in from your colleagues and supervisors, and
  • persevering in the face of adverse situations under Managing your team and yourself.

Closely following these was Fostering a culture of responsive service to the public under Responding to the public rubric.

Data-based decision making, technical skills, budgetary/financial management acumen and negotiation skills were among others highly valued by participants in the study.

Several recommendations for government agencies followed:

  1. “Assist rising leaders in building and joining networks, including those outside their agencies and functional silos…
  2. Be attentive to burnout and promote professional development opportunities to cultivate resilience…
  3. Capitalize on the sense of duty and public service ethos of talented young leaders by leveraging assessments to measure public service motivation and leadership aptitude…
  4. Consider how to scale fellows programs to reach more rising leaders.
  5. Develop career-stage learning rubrics to guide rising leaders as they pursue professional development…
  6. Implement mentoring and coaching programs…”

The report also recommended several steps for educational institutions to enhance public service competencies:

  1. “Incorporate more field-based content into graduate programs…
  2. Consider how to deliver learning and skills development aligned to career stages…
  3. Facilitate network development and mentoring through alumni communities…
  4. Support campus communities of practice for students intending to work in government…
  5. Partner with government agencies and associations to develop scalable professional education offerings, especially certificate programs, aligned with the priority competency areas.”

Each of these is explained and seems to make sense. You might consider how well your graduate programs fulfilled the suggestions and whether/how you might help strengthen your program.

These are not totally new or novel ideas; government agencies have created and managed incentives and training or career building activities for most, if not all, the recommendations.  I recommend reading the report in greater detail that explains the generalizations.

The report follows with recommendations for Higher Education and Training institutions that will better help government employees strengthen the attributes of successful leaders mentioned above. Few surprises.

The report is useful for one’s list of attributes that will help make for success, particularly if one defines success as making it to the top – Senior SES or Senior Foreign/Military/Intel ranks. Check it out – there’s much more of interest than this brief summary can convey.