10 superpowers for a new breed of social media leaders

What if you could create a troop of X-Men-style mutants that perfectly performed the tasks of Web-based citizen engagement? Clearly, the Secret Service could use someone like that (and it might very well have accelerated its research and development, based on recent Twitter trouble).

Jeffrey Levy, the Environmental Protection Agency’s director of Web communications, recently asked GovLoop members what skills are needed to perform well as a social media manager. Although Levy’s question focused on social media, the conversation is informative for anyone who wishes to lead in a world ruled by the Web.

I have taken a crack at answering that question before and suggested that there are six competencies of a Gov 2.0 leader. These are people whose superpowers are being innovative, trustworthy, inclined to share information, team-oriented, intuitive and task-oriented.

I’m not asking managers to fling fireballs from their palms, and neither were the respondents to Levy’s blog. Instead, they said the new breed of leaders should have:

  • Peripheral vision. Eliza Blair, a senior chemical review manager at EPA, said leaders need “to have a finely honed sense of the world around them, both from inside the bureaucracy (knowing what you can safely talk about) and outside (knowing what people want to hear).” Greg Licamele, a public affairs officer for Fairfax County, Va., agreed. “You need someone with good situational awareness of the whole agency/topic area,” he wrote. “Who are the people who know things both from the 30,000-foot [point of view] and in the weeds?”
  • Incredible influence. Employees at every level of an organization have the power to promote ideas that can help the organization achieve its mission. Phil Sammon, a social media program coordinator and public affairs specialist at the U.S. Forest Service, said a leader should be effective in convincing agency and organizational leaders of the importance and value of new initiatives.
  • Courageous trust. This is the flipside of being trustworthy, and it’s a two-way street, said Jaqi Ross, a communications consultant at the Internal Revenue Service. Ross pointed out that “leaders have to be willing to recognize when and how they can let go, and employees need strong communication skills so they can earn the trust they need to do their best work.” “Oh, and don't forget courage,” wrote Michele Bartram, manager of promotions, publications and information sales at the Government Printing Office. “Since foraging forward in this brave new world without a safety net is not for the meek,” Bartram suggests that we paraphrase Gene Roddenberry and boldly go where no one has gone before.

By now you’re realizing why these folks might sound more like mutants. It’s likely impossible to find one person with all those superhuman skills. Of course, that’s why the X-Men form fierce teams with complementary attributes that — together — make them far more powerful.

About the Author

Andy Krzmarzick is the community manager for GovLoop, a social network for people in and around government.

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