Climbing the leadership ladder in government is no easy task. From developing your professional network and honing new skills to internal politics, there’s a lot that goes into rising to the top.
But those that do become a senior leader have a lot to offer to those who want to follow in their footsteps. That’s what we learned from GovLoop’s recent online training, Secrets of the C-Suite: Tips for Becoming a Senior Leader in Government. During it, we heard from Julie Saad, Special Assistant to the Director, Potomac Service Center, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Bill Spencer, Acting Chief Information Officer, Merit Systems Protection Board, about their insights, experiences, tips and tricks for rising through the ranks of the government ladder.
Before taking questions from the training audience, Saad and Spencer focused on five tips to help people move into senior roles in government.
1. Build Your Experience AND Theirs: Saad said this approach means that you can’t just sit back and wait for important or senior tasks and projects to come to you. It’s important to be proactive in seeking out new ways to help your organization. Be observant and look for areas where you can dive in or take the lead. This will build your skillset, as well as let what you have come to the table of your organization and improve what they are doing. “Overall, it will prove your value to your organization through your actions and your work ethic,” Saad said.
Additionally, Saad meant by this tip that you must develop the skills of people who report to you too, and you are responsible for giving them the experiences and opportunities that they need to grow and develop. People fear that giving their employees opportunities may mean they will leave their current position, but Saad she often finds the opposite is true – people want to work in an office where they get to expand their current roles and skillsets.
2. No Job is Too Small: Spencer said this tip is all about humility. “Being humble is something that I remember reminding myself from my first days in the federal government,” he said. “Being humble is key whether you want to move up the ladder or whether you want to inspire others at any level. No job is beneath you, and if your mentality is one of service to others, of learning, of gratitude, that will take you far regardless.”
“Don’t be afraid to do the small stuff or the seemingly insignificant stuff,” Spencer advised.
3. Focus on the Positive: “It’s easy to become jaded, overwhelmed or defeated,” Saad said. “But senior government leaders must remain positive no matter what challenges come their way.” She said that this translates into thinking about, how are you going to “show up” day to day in your job and show who you are to your coworkers and employees?
“When you display a genuine positive attitude you’re not only going to make an impression, you’ll be more likely to be noticed and appreciated by senior managers and leaders. A positive attitude will help you when you want to be considered for special projects or collateral duties.”A positive attitude can also truly help you think about problems and challenges as opportunities, which can contribute to your problem solving abilities and skills.
Saad knows this is not easy. “What we’re faced with as public servants is very difficult,” she admitted. But she tries to take it day by day. She also works to focus on gratitude. “Take time and reflect and think about what you are grateful. It can be something in your personal lives. When you stop and take a moment to reflect, it can help you shift.”
4. Focus on Relationships on Your Way Up and When You’re Feeling Down: Spencer highlighted the power of conducting and accepting informational interviews at all points in your career. Whether you’re deep in the job hunt or just curious about new possibilities, an informational interview can be a fantastic way to get your foot in the door at a new department, build contacts, and score new opportunities.
Spencer also talked about the power of building and focusing on genuine relationships when you’re feeling low – mentoring in particular. Spencer had a mentor who gave him a powerful experience when he started out in his career, and he knew immediately he wanted to be a mentor himself later in his career. “Research shows that people who are mentored are more likely to be promoted, earn more money, more likely to have a career plan, and be happier with their work,” he explained.
Spencer’s mentor gave him exposure, advice, and affirmations when he needed it. Now, Spencer does the same for others – and though he is now the mentor, he learns just as much from his mentees, he said.
5. Communicate for Growth and Inspiration: Saad said that communication skills manage to still be underrated even though, in her opinion, they are the most important skill to develop in order to advance in your career. “You need to be able to convey your ideas and proposal and be considered,” she pointed out.
Saad also noted that communication skills are equally important for building the interpersonal skills that will help you advance in the workplace and get noticed by senior leaders. It’s important to remember, Saad advised, that even if your communication skills are currently strong, you must continue to practice them because they are perishable skills. Continue to invest in these skills, because being able to communicate well will mean you can inspire others through your words, convey your ideas through presentations, and connect interpersonally with your colleagues.
For more information on all things professional development, check out all of the NextGen Leadership program’s blogs here and make sure to sign up to attend our Next Generation of Government Training Summit this August!