FEDweek

Thinking about the Senior Executive Service (SES)

By Nancy Segal, Solutions for the Workplace, LLC

Before applying for a Senior Executive Service (SES) position, it is important to assess whether you have the qualifications for, and interest in becoming a member of the Senior Executive Service. Being a member of the SES is about more than just meeting time-in-grade requirements.

In order to be eligible for the Senior Executive Service (SES) you must meet time-in-grade requirements AND be able to demonstrate your possession of OPM’s five executive core qualifications (ECQs): Leading Change, Leading People, Results Driven, Business Acumen, and Building Coalitions. Qualifying for the SES is about more than proving your managerial capabilities—its about true leadership.

Not everyone wants to be a leader—many are comfortable remaining as a manager, and still others like being an individual contributor, without the responsibility for supervising, managing, or leading others. What is the difference between being a manager and a leader? While The Wall Street Journal says that leadership and management are complementary and must go “hand-in-hand,” Warren Bennis, in his seminal book, On Becoming a Leader, defines the differences this way:

* The manager administers; the leader innovates.
* The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
* The manager maintains; the leader develops.
* The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
* The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
* The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
* The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
* The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
* The manager imitates; the leader originates.
* The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
* The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
* The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

In addition to asking yourself whether you are a manager or a leader, it is important to honestly assess yourself and your potential as a leader. In addition to your casual self assessment, you should also begin to evaluate:

* Do you want to make the personal and professional commitment to being one of the government’s top executives?
* Is your vision broad-based or are you more technically-focused?
* Do you think and act strategically or are you a better at implementation?
* Do you like inspiring people or would you rather get it done yourself?
* Can you solicit input from, listen to, and integrate the opinions of diverse stakeholders?
* Are you politically savvy and able to operate in an environment of increased public scrutiny, reduced resources, and ongoing ambiguity?
* Can you provide specific examples of when you have demonstrated your leadership on a strategic level?

If you answered “yes” to these questions (and of course, there are many more), then the SES may be right for you!


Nancy Segal is a federal career and job search expert. Following her own senior-level federal HR career, she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC to provide HR management perspective to astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy is also one of our premier management and career development trainers for our online webinars.

If you have any questions for Nancy concerning your federal career or the federal job search process you can email her at fedcareer@fedweek.com.