Welles: Best leaders for the best places

Good communication with managers is a big factor in helping employees feel satisfied with their jobs

Government information technology workers are happy campers, generally satisfied with what they do and where they work, according to Federal Computer Week’s annual “Best Agencies for Federal IT Workers.” FCW defines the best agencies as the ones with the most satisfied employees. Other recent surveys have examined leadership in best-of-class organizations and found similar results.

In the FCW survey, among management factors, a “good relationship with management,” “flexible work arrangements,” and a “strong belief in management’s vision of the agency’s mission” contributed most to worker satisfaction.

Researchers at the Human Resource Institute (HRI) in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., support those findings. Communication with managers and within an organization can help improve job satisfaction, said Jay Jamrog, the institute’s executive director. The biggest part of communication is building relationships, he said.

Reaching a common understanding with managers, especially on the question of why do the work — the mission vision — brings a sense of the importance of the work, Jamrog said. Feeling that what we do is important makes the work more satisfying.

FCW found that employees who feel challenged and think they are making a difference tend to be satisfied in their jobs. Among technology factors, the “opportunity to manage complex projects,” “use of leading-edge technology,” and the “ability to upgrade technology skills” were most critical to worker satisfaction in the FCW survey.

Those findings are no surprise to researchers at the National Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland University College. In a recent presentation, Carol Dell’Amore, the institute’s executive director, cited surveys showing that challenging work, rather than salary, is what motivates employees.

A related question is how best-in-class organizations develop leaders. What leadership competencies are most important today and will be most important in 10 years? The American Management Association and HRI addressed those questions in their “Leading into the Future” survey of 1,573 executives. Most survey respondents were from corporations, but some represented government.

In government, the main barriers to developing leaders are a lack of rewards for leadership development and a lack of measures for leadership behavior, according to the AMA/HRI survey. Despite the government’s emphasis on performance metrics, measuring leadership qualities and behaviors has taken a back seat. But measuring behaviors might provide some incentives for change.

Leadership behaviors, for example, may have been a factor in responses to the FCW survey. Employees who felt passed over because of favoritism or felt underappreciated by managers indicated low job satisfaction.

If the best agencies want to remain at the top, they will need strong leaders. According to the AMA/HRI survey, the leadership competencies that will be most important for government in the next 10 years are the abilities to communicate well, foster innovation and creativity, and develop other leaders.

And technology is one of the primary factors influencing leadership and the pace of change.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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