FAA seeks to turn managers into executives

klunney@govexec.com

As part of its effort to avoid a workforce crisis in the next few years, the Federal Aviation Administration is encouraging managers to develop a broad range of skills that will prepare them to enter the Senior Executive Service.

Lindy Ritz, director of the FAA's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, in Oklahoma City, Okla., said the agency's new approach to executive workforce planning focuses on developing an individual's managerial skills, and encouraging managers who may someday join the SES to take the initiative in expanding their abilities and learning new tasks. The approach, developed by an executive steering committee created last year, was influenced by workforce planning efforts in the private sector.

Under the new plan, FAA managers will get skill assessments from their supervisors, peers and subordinates. These assessments will help managers see where their strengths and weaknesses are and how they measure up against the agency's criteria for senior executives.

"There is not room for everyone who wants to be an executive to be an executive. This is a wonderful opportunity to show you can be a good manager," said Ritz. Ritz said that managers can go on temporary work assignments or take training courses-depending on the funds available-to enhance their skills and make themselves more marketable. But they need to take the initiative.

"Competition is stiffer and less money is available [for training]," said Ritz, who heads the executive steering committee.

Half of the SES members in the FAA will be eligible for retirement in 2003, and 53 percent of managers at GS-15 level in line to replace them will also be eligible to retire. Ritz said that downsizing and hiring freezes at the FAA have contributed to a human capital crisis in the executive ranks of the agency.

The average age of an SESer at the FAA is 53, while the average age of a senior manager is 52.

"We want to make clear what the expectations are to be a senior executive in the FAA, and we want people to have the opportunity to be assessed against these competencies. Our plan is to continue to hone the skills of our current SESers and enhance those of senior managers, so that we have a pool of senior managers ready to move into the executive ranks," said Ritz.

A new, more specific set of criteria for evaluating senior executives at the FAA will take effect early next year and will be used to grade internal and external candidates for vacancies in the SES, Ritz said.

The Office of Personnel Management issued draft regulations in June establishing three primary criteria for rating executives: employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and business results. Under the draft regulations, agencies have a fair amount of flexibility in developing individual performance evaluation processes.

The FAA has created its own set of criteria under OPM's guidelines, which include four core competencies for executives: achieving operational results, leading people, building relationships and leading strategic change.

Congress granted the FAA special authority to design its own personnel and procurement systems in its fiscal 1996 appropriations measure, concluding that the agency needed freedom from hiring, pay and contracting restrictions to meet the management challenges of modernizing the air traffic control system.

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