Position: Chief operating officer of B3 Solutions, an Alexandria government contractor that provides IT services.

A music lover, James Washington became a radio DJ in college, with a passion for jazz. It wasn’t until an internship in the Michigan state government that he developed a strong interest in public service. He helped turn around a Federal Aviation Administration IT effort, and then decided it was time to move on. He entered the private sector, working for a few small businesses until coming to B3 Solutions.

What was the greatest leadership asset you brought to rectifying the FAA situation?

We had to satisfy the Government Accountability Office auditors that we had closed the gaps they identified in our internal processes. A huge role in that whole piece was project management certification. We demonstrated that we not only had a certification program that would enhance the quality of best practices that program managers use, but also that we had a repeatable process that was part of our practice over time. With the funds available to me, I made sure that program management certification was a top priority. I went to the FAA administrato,r who is the most senior political appointee in the agency, and argued for the importance of these funds to be protected. Based on the argument, we not only received the funding that was requested, but the administrator increased the funding. That’s what helped us to be a priority across leadership and the FAA.

What skills did you employ to make that argument?

Timing is worth a lot. I don’t want to say that I was the most persuasive executive in the agency. The argument had to be made. I gathered the evidence to show that this would improve our ability to modernize the air space within schedule and cost. And we had not done that in the past. I gave them examples of programs that were led by managers who lacked the experience level and training necessary to manage these programs effectively. I used that in contrast to programs that were led by very highly talented program managers and showed the difference.

What public sector skills are most valuable in business?

My ability to communicate effectively with peers and management and with customers. There are times when people have conflicting priorities. My role as a person in an executive leadership position is to find ways to minimize those conflicts and get people all on the same path and focused on achieving a common outcome.

What communication skill is most effective?

Speaking clearly about the goal, vision, target, where we are headed and why. It is also important to have the ability to listen to different points of view. Communication is a two way thing. If it’s all transmit and no receiving that only allows for half of the complete communication link.

Favorite business books?

I am very interested in getting Colin Powell’s new book [“It Worked For Me”]. He is one of my heroes and mentors, even though he doesn’t know it.

— Interview with Vanessa Small