Leadership qualities are most important in federal manager hiring: report

Merit System Protection Board finds agencies hire managers based on technical skills instead of leadership abilities

Agencies hire too many front-line managers based on their technical skills and should instead focus on promoting those with good leaderships skills who can motivate the federal employees they supervise, according to a new Merit System Protection Board report.

The MSPB report, released July 21, said that highly skilled technical candidates—many with no interest in or aptitude for leadership—often get supervisory jobs because agency selection criteria are heavily weighted toward technical expertise. And because most federal career paths do not provide increased status and pay for technical experts, many of these experts are drawn into seeking the higher grade supervisory positions, the report said.

Other agency policies and practices may be making things worse, as well, the report said. For example, when filling supervisory positions, federal agencies often provide minimal or no information about supervisory responsibilities in job advertisements, give insufficient weight to “people management” skills, or use ineffective assessment methods to gauge skills and refer candidates.

In addition, many federal supervisors reported that their training and development has been inadequate, and that they do not receive the information, support, or feedback they need to discharge their day-to-day responsibilities effectively.

The panel suggested that Congress provide funding to the Office of Personnel Management to develop better candidate selection tools. It also recommended that OPM update its hiring guidance to include leadership skills, and create alternative career opportunities for technical experts.

“Federal agencies cannot afford to leave the success of their first-level supervisors to chance,” said MSPB Chairman Susan Tsui Grundmann. “The first and most important step is for agency leaders to recognize that first-level supervisors are, first and foremost, supervisors—and that they should pay special attention to how they select and develop employees for this role.”

 

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