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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Stepping Stones

While the deal reached to raise the debt ceiling in early August did not explicitly include cuts to federal pay and benefits, there is a widespread expectation that government workers and programs still will suffer as a result. That in turn will affect recruitment, retention, training and almost every other facet of agencies' operations.

As current and aspiring managers face this new reality, the American Management Association cites the need for stronger skills in four areas - critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. And it argues even though money is tight, now is not the time to pinch pennies when it comes to training programs that can help managers gain competency in the Four Cs.

Sam Davis, vice president of government and midmarket sales, says AMA - established in 1923 - has worked with almost every federal agency, either through seminars or customized training programs, to strengthen employees' leadership ability.

Managers are bombarded with information and prospects, and critical thinking - the first C - allows them to separate opportunities from the glut, Davis says. Creativity helps them break out of established patterns and see when the answer is right in front of them. Collaboration makes it possible to thrive in a team environment. And finally, communication helps managers write and speak persuasively and make their views understood.

AMA is not alone in pushing these competencies. A recent report by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service on innovation in government highlighted the need for fostering creativity.

According to the Partnership's research, only 39 percent of federal employees felt their agency rewarded creativity and innovation, yet 91.4 percent said they were constantly looking for ways to do their jobs better.

According to Davis, managers now are expected to be more than supervisors - they also must be leaders, acting as role models for staff. This expectation creates an additional pressure; managers must set the tone at their agency through their conduct, appearance and communication style, among other things.

Leadership training is especially important for the federal government, for a number of reasons, including demographic trends. With many high-level managers at or nearing retirement, new, younger employees are rising through the ranks, Davis notes. Even when agencies are meeting their recruitment challenges head-on and finding high-quality candidates to fill gaps, he says, the new talent does not necessarily have real world experience in the Four Cs. That's where training comes in.

Agencies must invest in individuals' personal development to succeed in their organizational goals, according to Davis. This also can be a powerful recruiting tool. "Obviously federal agencies are competing with the private sector, and it's an asset to show you're concerned about the person and that you will be providing them the tools they need to reach their leadership potential," he says.

Managers should know there are resources out there for them, even when budget dollars run short. AMA's website,, offers a wealth of free information, such as webinars and white papers, to support federal managers. "We believe in lifelong learning and we're committed to supporting the federal government," Davis says.

The Office of Personnel Management also offers tools for current and aspiring leaders at And the Performance Institute provides white papers, research and eLearning courses on its website.

Elizabeth Newell covered management, human resources and contracting at Government Executive for three years.

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