Three Keys to Successfully Managing a Federal Division

There are three critical components to effectively managing any federal division within the government workforce and there are multiple factors which must be balanced to be successful. Here are those components.

There are three critical components to effectively managing any federal division within the government workforce. Each component  has multiple branches that must be developed to maintain a successful division and to ensure work performance and priorities are aligned properly. In this article, I will briefly discuss these three elemental factors and will elaborate in later columns on the depth of each one.

All successful managers, whether they are federal or private sector, understand there are multiple factors which to be balanced in order to achieve success. The balance is critical in maintaining a productive and positive work environment which achieves program goals, work performance expectations and interoffice productivity.
The successful federal manager who accomplishes the mission objectives is required to:
  • manage the program
  • manage the work to meet the program goals, and
  • manage the people.
A failure in any factor will negatively influence the overall mission and cause a systemic degradation of all three of the factors. Here are the three factors:

1.  Managing the program:

Every manager must manage the specific program as tasked. This includes understanding the program goals and objectives, maintaining and sustaining communication with those entities (public or federal) which are affected by the program or governed by the program, developing the necessary relationships with other divisions and/or entities which the program relies upon (i.e. finance, legal, human resources, etc.) and, most importantly, ensuring that the program and division itself is viewed as a successful and productive part of the agency.
At this level, the federal manager is the focal point for the division and specific program that he is tasked with overseeing. Chain of command structure is also a large part of this key factor as the manager of the division is most commonly the first person contacted for assistance by internal or outside influences.
Furthermore, the manager of the division is also a liaison to the higher level structure of the agency and is also required to justify or answer questions or concerns pertaining to the overall status of the program.

2. Managing the work:

It is critical for a manger to ensure that work related tasks are properly understood by the subordinate employees, that each employee is conducting the specific tasks as delegated and in the prescribed manner and that the employee work accomplishments meet the program objectives.
Effective communication is an absolute necessity in this key factor in order to keep employees mission focused and goal oriented. Additionally, it is imperative that the delegation of work is planned in order that the separate tasks being conducted are aligned to the overall goals as set by the manager and that there are no unnecessary or overlapping efforts.
Too often work functions can become fragmented which leads to deficiencies in the overall mission objectives and can damage the reputation of the program and the people. Furthermore, oversight and accountability are critical.
The successful federal manager must have policies and procedures specifically dedicated for ensuring proper oversight of the work accomplishments. Metric data is an important tool as well for this key elemental factor. However, metric data alone cannot be relied upon to ensure successful accomplishments. Human oversight is critical to ensure that the metric data and the actual work objectives are met. Human oversight additionally assists in managing the people as discussed below in the third key element.

3. Managing the people:

This is arguably one of the most concerning key elemental factors when managing a federal division. Managing the personalities, relationships and individual behaviors of employees can be a time consuming task which requires diplomacy, tact and skill and should be approached with a measure of trepidation.
This specific key factor covers various areas of employee relations matters to include federal policies, specific divisional policies, Office of Civil Rights / EEO matters and other areas of oversight, accountability and disciplinary factors.
This key area of management covers all areas of career evolution, employee morale, employee performance and the engagement of employees to accomplish the necessary tasks. All these branches of this key element themselves cover a large area of discussion which will be reviewed at a later time. The most important item to remember is that slight failures in this category can have enormous effects for the manager and the division and as such must not be overlooked as the last task a federal manager must review.
With proper oversight, issues that arise can be corrected with minimal effort which ensures that the division progresses in a positive direction. However, if left unchecked the degradation can become a self sustaining reaction which will require a massive correction of equal or greater force in order to correct the deficiencies.

Seth Gordon is an Inspector for the TSA, at JFK Airport and has performed in various governmental divisions. Prior to the TSA Seth worked in private industry, management and politics; having served as the Chairman of Ethics for the City of Long Beach and effectuating community relationships.