Preparing Tomorrow’s Public Service

May 14, 2018

The Volcker Alliance

According to a new report, government agencies should promote a sense of duty, provide opportunities for professional development, help build professional networks and implement mentor programs to form and maintain a pipeline of leadership.

Developing “rising leaders” is especially critical today, the Volcker Alliance said in its report “Preparing Tomorrow’s Public Service: What the Next Generation Needs,” as the oublic sector prepares for a wave of retirements. The good news for agencies, however, is that 75 percent of rising leaders responding to a Volcker survey of federal, state and local government officials expect to stay in government for the long term.

The impending "silver tsunami", which good-government advocates have been warning about for years, makes professional development vital. According to Volcker’s survey, half of government leaders wish they had more access to training programs. The survey had 925 respondents (52 percent of which work in local government), primarily recruited through professional associations and schools of public affairs.

Two-thirds of government leaders prefer a training location outside of their workplace, the survey found. Respondents said they particularly appreciated opportunities to remove themselves from their normal day-to-day responsibilities and instead focus on building relationships with leaders in other agencies and departments. Single-day presentations were less popular than options such as executive coaching and multi-session courses.

Mentors also play a particularly effective role: 83 percent of respondents with a mentor said that they are meeting their career goals compared to just 51 percent without one. Professional associations can help establish these kinds of networks.

Rising leaders value “soft skills,” such as interpersonal effectiveness and personal resilience, as the most important traits for their effectiveness. Front-line managers are most concerned with adapting to “scarce resources” and improving staff morale, according to the survey. Nearly 9 in 10 respondents said that helping their teams find “purpose and motivation” was among their most important responsibilities.

State and local leaders value responsiveness to the public more highly than those in the federal government, the Volcker Alliance found. The group stressed the importance of recruiting individuals who hold intrinsic public service motivations into government, although it said that the skill can be cultivated with proper training. Millennials may be better prepared than previous generations to respond to the public’s needs, the Alliance argues, in part by leveraging social media and other digital technologies.

Other important skills identified in the survey involve data and technology, business acumen and navigating the political environment. Eight in 10 respondents said it was important to maintain their integrity in a “highly partisan” era.

The Volcker Alliance concedes that government agencies are facing management challenges “of immense scale and complexity,” but the group is optimistic its recommendations will “prove a catalyst for action at all levels of government.”

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