David Wennergren: Leading through empowering others

By his own definition, David Wennergren is a leader. “Leaders need to be incredibly persistent about their message and be adept at storytelling to get their message across,” he said.

As the Navy Department’s chief information officer, Wennergren led the Identity Protection and Management Senior Coordinating Group. Its task was to design a road map for using smart cards, biometrics and public-key infrastructure to manage and protect the identities of Defense Department employees during a time of increasing threats and identity theft.

Wennergren brought people together from various agencies, including building security employees, to achieve that objective. “When they were stuck, he painted a vision for them,” said Priscilla Guthrie, director of the Institute for Defense Analysis’ Information Technology and Systems Division. Guthrie was DOD’s deputy CIO before Wennergren was hired for that position in November 2006.

Most achievements in government are not solo acts. Government work is accomplished by teams of employees, and Wennergren is the quintessential team builder, Guthrie said.

Under the responsibility of the senior coordinating group, DOD issued 11 million Common Access Cards with digital certificates in the past six years. About 3.5 million DOD military, civil employees and contractors use the cards.

“This award-winning effort is a wonderful example of the entire DOD team banding together to create an enterprisewide solution that has significantly improved the security of our information systems, allowed for the implementation of e-government initiatives that eliminate paper-based and labor-intensive processes, and raised the bar for physical access security at our bases,” Wennergren said.

Colleagues say Wennergren was selected for the DOD post because he is among the few who have skills for leading large organizations through complex changes. “His ability to maintain a strategic perspective of our goals and motivate people toward achieving them is critical in an organization as large and diverse as the Department of Defense,” said John Grimes, DOD’s CIO.

People who worked for Wennergren when he was the Navy’s CIO belonged to the same book club. Each month they read the book club selection, and they invited its author to speak and discuss how they might apply the book’s lessons to their work. The book of the month was always about one of two topics: leadership or management.

Expanding Boundaries, the name of the book club, was Wennergren’s brainchild. It’s one of the ways he cultivates relationships among employees and puts them in charge of their own development. Wennergren is almost always involved in activities that reach beyond his own organization. He is vice chairman of the CIO Council. “I am a huge believer in the power of strategic dialogue,” he said.

Thinking across organizational boundaries is more important than ever, Wennergren said. “What can we do that will allow people to navigate across network boundaries to get to the intellectual capital they need?” he asked. That’s a challenge no leader can walk away from.

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