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Think BIG: Leadership Takeaways From the 2021 Blacks in Government Conference

By Wanda Dandridge

Recently, Blacks in Government (BIG) hosted its very first Virtual National Training Institute conference in late August 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was considered a historical event. This year’s theme was: “Training Matters – Roadmap to Securing Your Career Goals!” It was my first time attending BIG’s conference and I would like to share my workshop experience with you about leadership management.

Leadership Management:

Facilitators provided practical recommendations towards getting into leadership. In the workshop “Pathway to the Senior Executive Service (SES),” the speaker Nigel Simon, a senior executive from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), shared suggestions about how to enter the ranks of SES. Simon spoke about his personal challenges with climbing the ladder to SES and shared valuable information about how he overcame those challenges.

Below are some practical steps towards entering the upper ranks from the workshop.

  • Start early in your career to develop your leadership skills.
  • Get together with your mentor (battle buddy) to discuss milestones accomplished and to hold you accountable.
  • Read leadership articles with your mentor and discuss details for understanding.
  • Attend leadership forums or conferences that are related to Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs).
  • Take advantage of professional opportunities to shadow senior executives.
  • Volunteer for community positions such as board of trustees or professional associations.

My biggest takeaway from this workshop was when Mr. Simon said, “If you are really thinking about joining the SES ranks, then ask yourself these questions: Why SES? Why you? If you figure out the ‘why’ then the ‘how’ will follow.” Having to reflect on these questions helped me identify my next steps towards becoming a stronger leader.

In another workshop, Shirley A. Jones, president of Blacks in Government, spoke candidly about how to write ECQs. She provided recommendations about how to answer specific questions that should be addressed in your essay write-up when applying for executive service positions.

My main takeaway from her workshop centered around five major core competency questions that should be answered in your essay as a potential candidate for SES.

  • Leading Change – How do you lead change in your organization?
  • Leading People – Can you lead people toward your organization’s mission while working with leaders from different functional areas?
  • ResultsDriven – Are you actively engaged in learning projects that improve customer service systems and processes?
  • Business Acumen – What is your work experience and performance in financial management, human capital management or technology management that identifies your leadership strength?
  • Building Coalitions – How do you foster relationships and develop others along the way?

For more information on how to write ECQs, go to: Senior Executive Service (opm.gov)

Also, Ms. Jones wrote the following article sharing her journey as a recently appointed SES member: “My Key Executive Leadership Program Journey”

My overall takeaway from the conference is to always respect others, be a leader of influence, and be ready to answer those critical senior executive questions as you move towards your goal as a leader in the government.

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Wanda Dandridge is a subject matter expert on financial management systems for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Energy located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Her government career spans over 15 years, starting as an Army intern in financial management, then subsequently emerging as a transformational leader with DLA specializing in budget analysis, logistical support and employee development. Wanda’s greatest career accomplishment is receiving the Federal Employee of the Year Award with DLA Energy Pacific in 2012. Her philosophy is to lead by example while fostering others for their desired purpose. She is a Certified Defense Financial Manager (CDFM) who enjoys volunteering in her local community.

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