Managers hone leadership skills through college program

Federal managers who graduated Friday from an American University leadership program said more than six months of weekends spent in the classroom have helped them significantly improve their job performance.

The program, launched in September by The American University, is designed to help government managers develop the five core competencies necessary for Senior Executive Service positions: business acumen, coalition-building skills, communication skills, the ability to drive change, effective leadership and the ability to achieve tangible results.

Robert Tobias, director of The American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation, said he developed the curriculum in hopes of helping managers act on their ideas. Many managers Tobias has met at seminars had a "real deficit in terms of how to actually implement policy," he said. "They had good theories and understood the concepts but were unable to institute change."

Six managers from the Internal Revenue Service, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Personnel Management, Census Bureau and Labor Department were the first participants in the program. To receive a Certificate in Leadership for Public Policy Implementation, each manager completed at least six of eight courses offered. Classes took place on Friday afternoons and Saturdays, and the employees worked full-time while earning the certificate, which is not a degree.

The program was a lot of work and took a significant chunk out of the weekend, but was well worthwhile, according to Quasette Smith Crowner, a human resources specialist in the IRS's Executive Services division who graduated from the program last week .

"The cadre of professors was wonderful," she said. The instructors came from diverse backgrounds: some were from academia, but there were also experts from agencies and government consulting groups.

In addition, Crowner said she benefited from having a personal coach who gave her one-on-one tips for improving job performance. Program participants asked their co-workers and agency stakeholders to fill out surveys to identify their strengths and weaknesses, she said. Personal coaches then helped each student analyze the survey results and develop an action plan for addressing shortcomings.

"It involved a lot of pushing yourself and self-reflection," Crowner said.

Ann Junkins, another IRS manager who completed the program, said she also appreciated the personal coaching. She said the classes provided a "terrific balance of academia and hands-on experience" and helped her build confidence.

As director of cooperative efforts at the IRS, Junkins serves as a liaison between the agency and unions. She said she found the program's training on how to resolve conflicts and provide constructive feedback to agency customers and subordinates particularly useful. "That's a huge skill many people haven't mastered," she said.

Both Junkins and Crowner said they also learned a lot from their peers. "We created a wonderful network for sharing information and supporting each other," Crowner said.

The six graduates' supervisors told Tobias they were also pleased with the program. They said they noticed a substantial improvement in their job performance after the six enrolled in the leadership courses. Program participants have a better understanding of their job responsibilities and have developed plans for acting on their ideas, the supervisors said.

For the most part, agency management was very supportive of managers and understanding when they had to leave work early for class on Friday afternoons, Junkins and Crowner said. Agencies paid for all six managers to attend classes at a cost of $2,500 per course.

"In these days of tight budgets, you don't often get a chance to train outside the agency," Junkins said. She added that she hopes the IRS will continue to send managers to the program.

The next round of classes will begin in September and will be limited to 20 participants. If enough managers are interested, agencies will prescreen applications limiting the number who can apply to the program, Tobias said. Applicants must be a GS-13 or above and possess significant management experience and potential. To apply, managers need to submit a letter of recommendation and have an interview at The American University.

For more information about the program, visit the Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation Web site.

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