Federal leadership is on the decline. That should not be a surprise to anyone after all the 112th Congress had the lowest approval ratings of any Congress in history. However, the general malaise in leadership is not limited to our elected officials. According to a joint study conducted by the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte our civil servants, those chosen to direct and manage our federal agencies, are also suffering for a lack of effective leadership skills.
The report entitled “Federal Leadership on the Decline” analyzed data provided by the Office of Management and Budgets 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. The annual survey of the best places to work in the federal government is a measure of employee satisfaction within federal agencies. The 2012 study revealed that employee satisfaction with leadership dropped to 52.8 on a 100 point scale for the first time since the survey began in 2003. A dearth of quality and effective leadership skills contributes to poor quality of work life conditions and impedes the ability of the federal government to work efficiently. The management of human capital is one of the best indications of an effective leader. The federal agencies with the strongest leaders are those that have good communication, empower their employees and develop good quality of work life programs.
The survey defines leaders as the heads of agencies, departments and their senior management teams. Effective leadership was ranked 9th out of 10 work place categories and senior leaders recorded the second lowest score in the effective leadership category. Federal employees felt that their agency leaders failed in all the critical measurements of leaders including communication, honesty, respect, motivation and integrity. Only 40% of those surveyed felt empowered or motivated to do their job.
Many of the agencies receiving high marks are those that have had their budgets reduced or are repeated targets for elimination. NASA, the Department of State, Department of Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency were rated as the best large agencies to work for in the survey. The FDIC, the Government Accountability Office, the Peace Corps, the Surface Transportation Board, and the Congressional Budget Office were rated best among the smaller to mid-sized agencies.
All of the highly rated agencies demonstrated the traits of highly effective leaders including the ability to build highly effective teams, strategic management, and mission alignment. Communications and employee engagement and empowerment were cited as the critical factors in leadership that resulted in the Surface Transportation Board receiving the highest rating among small agencies and contributed to the Department of Transportation showing the most improvement among large agencies. The Office of Management and Budget was the most improved agency across all of government in employee satisfaction.
The agencies with the lowest ratings included the Department of Homeland Security, The Department of Veteran Affairs and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The Department of Veteran Affairs had the largest drop in satisfaction among the large agencies, while the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative received the lowest rating of all agencies.
DHS’ problems stem from those of many private holding companies that acquire companies without a strategic master plan. The agency suffers from a lack of effective leadership and management required to address communication, training, employee empowerment and recognition, budget discipline and IT integration. The DHS is rolling out a new process, the Leadership Development Framework, to address its shortcomings in leadership skills.
The Partnership for Service/Deloitte report does not offer anything revolutionary or new in the way of developing effective leadership habits. Instead the report reminds all management types that effective leadership requires developing a good communication plan, employee recognition and empowerment programs, a vision, strategy and mission.
Effective leadership of human resources leads to employee satisfaction and that leads to high performance teams. High performance teams are what we need to run and operate federal agencies.