Insights from Successful State Chief Administrators
By Kimberly Leichtner, Associate Consultant (MPA '13)
For the past several months, I’ve had the pleasure of getting an inside glimpse into the jobs of state chief administrators, the public officials who oversee the administrative and general services departments that provide critical business functions for their state. Over the last few years, Fels Research & Consulting has been working with the National Association of State Chief Administrators (NASCA) to help develop content for their annual management and leadership institutes. As part of the preparation for this year’s institute in September, we worked with NASCA to develop a white paper on the skills, or core competencies, that are needed for state chief administrators to be successful in their roles.
In order to understand the core competencies used by effective state chief administrators, we conducted in-depth one-on-one telephone interviews with state chief administrators from across the country who had demonstrated success with major initiatives. Similar to conducting job informational interviews, we asked them specific questions about their roles and responsibilities, including how they adjusted to their jobs, what they did tactically to drive successful and sometimes not so successful initiatives and specific skills they used from building relationships to running meetings to managing their employees. As students eager to learn from successful public administrators, we also asked them what the most rewarding and frustrating aspects of their jobs were and where they felt that they could have the greatest impact on their state’s overall performance. Many of the state chief administrators were candid with us, enabling us to pull out great insights for the report.
Through our interviews, we found certain skills start to emerge over and over again and we organized them into three stages: early stage skills being those that the state chief administrator should address immediately upon assuming office and mid-stage and late-stage skills that could be applied later in their tenure. As stated in the report though, by no means are these core competencies static or limited to their stages; rather, they are dynamic skills that should be adapted by state chief administrators based on their unique circumstances. We then illustrated these skills through narratives that we had gathered from the interviews and developed a set of action steps that any state chief administrator could use. I encourage you to read about our findings in the recently published report, What It Takes to be a Successful State Chief Administrator: Core Competencies for Effective Leadership.
I truly enjoyed my conversations with this group of state chief administrators, who graciously took some time out of their day to speak frankly with us. They have a tough job trying to make sure that the back office functions are running smoothly while making improvements around fiscal responsibility, streamlining and improving processes, producing outcomes for their state and striving to be an employer of choice. I admire the energy and dedication that these exemplary public servants bring to their jobs, which is an inspiring display of public administration in practice.