Young and in government

How can young leaders provide more support to their agencies without being in senior-level management positions? -Federal Supervisors (GS-14), Environmental Protection Agency

This question reflects the can-do attitude and energetic approach that we need in government.

Here’s the good news. Smart, senior leaders will be looking for people like you given the ever-expanding mission demands, the decreasing budgets and the increasing pace of change.

Here’s the challenge. How do you make the connection with senior leaders?

There is no single answer, but there are several efforts you can take.

First, I would recommend that you think about the interests and the talents you might bring to solving any problem. Are you interested in finding new, less costly ways of performing your agency’s work? Do you want to help your senior leaders make smart cuts? Do you have any experience in process improvement and reengineering? Have you done budgeting in your agency, other agencies or other organizations?

Next, you should have a conversation with your direct supervisor about your interest and ideas in supporting the agency right now. Your supervisor should be aware of any ongoing or planned efforts to address agency challenges, and can outline those efforts for you and make some suggestions for outreach to different executives or agency working groups. Your supervisor also might have some ideas for things you can do to support the team.

If that conversation proves fruitful, I recommend that you follow up on your supervisor’s suggestions as soon as possible, while still meeting your current obligations. If that conversation doesn’t turn out like you and I hope, there’s at least one more thing you might consider.

I would recommend you activate your network within the agency. Too often, folks are reticent to share their interests and ideas. I’d suggest grabbing coffee or lunch with a few close colleagues in other parts of the agency to talk about the current environment and ideas for supporting the agency right now. Close friends should offer a safe space where you can test whether you’re crazy. During the conversation, you could also learn about other agency initiatives you may know nothing about or even generate completely new ideas.

These represent some of the actions I would take – actions I actually took while working in government. I would be interested in learning from others’ experience. Please share your ideas and stories on this topic, and post you thoughts below, or email me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

More from On Leadership:

How to become a great federal leader

Rocking the boat in federal agencies

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Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.

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