Officials: Managers should collaborate with accountability

Program managers need good relationships with their co-workers and a bit of self-deprecation if they plan to run a successful program, government officials in the program management field said today.

As programs require more in-house teamwork and collaboration between agencies, a team of managers working on aspects of a program must keep each other in check, Chris Niedermayer, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Program Management Group, said during a panel discussion on management skills at a luncheon hosted by the Association For Federal Information Resource Management.

When any of the team’s members fail to pull their weight, the others need to know how, “in a professional way, to call those people out,” he said. However, many people dread doing that because they fear retaliation and they also don’t want to call out a colleague, knowing they have slacked off themselves, he said.

Knowing they have flaws, the individual team members should honestly judge their own skills and recognize what they do well and not so well, said Nancy Sternberg, program manager for the Small Business Administration’s Business Gateway, a Web site where small businesses can find information about government regulations. “The human resources assets in any organization are its strengths or its weaknesses,” she said.

Holding each other responsible improves operations and increases the likelihood of having a successful program, the panelists said.

In cross-agency work, people from different agencies resist working outside of their own organizations, experts say. It’s tougher work and it takes almost twice as long to accomplish the work, they also say. Also, funding flows from Congress in ways that don't complement programs that involve multiple agencies, such as many e-government initiatives.

“Agencies tend to be stovepiped because that’s the way you get things done,” said Linda Ott, program manager for the federal acquisition certifications at the Federal Acquisition Institute.

Although management training certifications and competencies help to overcoming these challenges, softer skills are as significant, panelists said.

“It’s a lot about relationships,” said Martha Dorris, deputy associate administrator in the Office of Citizen Services at the General Services Administration.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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