Dealing with new political appointees in your agencies
This week's questions come from federal managers at the U.S. Departments of Education and Homeland Security and from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any advice for dealing with new political appointees? Not the senior officials, but the younger "special assistants" who tend to give assignments without regard to chain of command or current workload? -Program analyst (GS-14) at the U.S. Small Business Administration
As a starting point, consider the political appointee's perspective. They're often new to an agency and unfamiliar with how to navigate the agency's ins and outs, and their senior officials are asking them to get things done quickly, before the next election. As a result, I suspect many of these political appointees feel a little betwixt and between top officials and career public servants.
Once you realize where they may be coming from, you'll be in a better position to offer your assistance. Consider having a short, off-line conversation following a meeting or over coffee to share your perspective and ideas about how to best interact and work with the agency's career staff.
Smart political appointees will welcome the advice since it will not only improve their individual performance but also your performance--and ultimately the agency's overall performance as well.
Can you provide one or two successful networking strategies for non-managers in the federal government? As a new civil servant, I found it difficult to make the transition from the networking opportunities I had in the private sector to the public sector. -Federal manager (GS-15) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
While networking opportunities in the two sectors may differ, the same techniques you used in the private sector certainly apply to the public sector. You just need to find the right opportunities.
Here are a few ideas in support of your networking goals. First, find out if there are any affinity groups such as Blacks in Government, Federally Employed Women or the Federal Asian Pacific American Council in your agency. Whenever I visit federal agencies, I'm always amazed at the interesting networking opportunities that I see posted for these groups.
Second, you might consider joining a government-wide group like Young Government Leaders--the definition of "young" being quite inclusive. You might also consider joining a government-related professional society related to your occupation, such as the National Association of Government Communicators. These groups will give you an opportunity to expand your network beyond those in your agency.
Finally, I find that interagency meetings, conferences and other government-wide events offer an incredible opportunity to connect with a broad range of interesting folks from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
Just remember to be strategic with your selections and your time. You want these opportunities to be fun, not a burden.
What's the best way to get supervisory experience if you're not currently in a supervisory position? -Federal manger (GS-15) at the U.S. Department of Education
You may already have thought of these, but here are three strategies to consider. First, consider serving as a team lead for a special project. Although you would not be anyone's supervisor of record, you would have many of the same responsibilities; and if you succeed, you could make the case that you're ready to formally supervise others.
Another option would involve taking a detail to another office that would enable you to supervise others. If you've been a team lead and you've distinguished yourself, you should have no problem taking on a supervisory role in another part of the agency--even if it's only for a limited time.
Finally, highly interactive training programs offer you an opportunity to learn about and practice the skills associated with setting expectations, evaluating performance and delivering feedback. It's not the same as on-the-job experience, but it's a great way to gain some experience beyond what your current job enables. Good luck!
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