'Every day, make a difference'

Kevin Carroll, the Army's program executive for Enterprise Information Systems

Henrik G. de Gyor

One of the big challenges facing government IT managers today can be summed up in one word: budget. It's not the only one, but how you approach that challenge sums up what a panel of government IT leaders had to say today about management and leadership.

'It's a tough environment,' said Transportation Security Administration CIO Patrick Schambach, a 32-year federal veteran and who will leave his job June 1. 'It's helpful to be a glass-half-full type of person.'

Optimism'combined with realism'was one the traits of leadership cited by the panel at the GCN Management Leadership Awards and Conference in Washington.

Others mentioned during the session, moderated by longtime federal IT official Jim Flyzik, now with the consultancy Guerra Kiviat & Flyzik, included a passion for your organization's mission, the ability to communicate up and down the chain of command, and an understanding of IT's role within an agency.

Other panelists were Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for E-government and IT; Kevin Carroll, the Army's program executive for Enterprise Information Systems; and Donna Bonar, recipient of one of this year's GCN Management Leadership Awards, who is associate commissioner of the Office of Automation and Program Operations in the Health and Human Services Department's Office of Child Support Enforcement.

Leading an IT department also involves a bit of humility in accepting a supportive role within an agency, Schambach said. 'IT is a support function,' he said.

Managers have to realize they are competing for dollars within their departments, often with more visible, front-line budget demands. Carroll cited the Army, where the metrics ultimately involve lives. Schambach recalled the days when he and Flyzik worked in the Secret Service, trying to find money for IT: 'How many times did we get the comment, 'Oh sure, we'll just surround the president with computers.''

Presenting a clear, timely case for how IT supports an organization's mission is key to getting the attention of agency chiefs, Evans said. It's important to be able to provide answers quickly, she said, and to communicate clearly, without jargon.

Schambach agreed, saying, 'You have to recognize the importance of communicating in the language of your organization, not in the language of our specialty.'

Bonar, whose program involves state and local jurisdictions nationwide, talked about the importance of giving everyone a sense of mission. 'I've always had bosses who gave me discretion' in solving a problem, she said, an approach she's taken with members of her staff.

On the personal aspects of leadership, several panelists talked about combining an enjoyable work environment with an insistence on making daily progress.

'You have to have fun,' Evans said, 'and, every day, make a difference. If I can't make a difference in an organization, it's time for me to go to another organization.'

How do you go from being a manager to being a leader?

'You gotta get religion,' Carroll said, explaining that that meant having faith in three things: organizational growth, a focus on people in the organization and creating a fun environment, and a self-actualized feeling of personal growth and accomplishment.

'It's not how many ideas you have,' Evans said, 'it's how many you make happen.'

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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