Feds rank leadership low in annual survey

The devil’s in the details and the details of a new report released yesterday by the Partnership for Public Service aren’t so pretty, at least when it comes to how federal employees rank their leaders.

Leadership Trends – Table 1
Year Effective Leadership Score
2003 49.1
2005 51.5
2007 51.5
2009 52.7
2010 54.5
2011 54.9

The Federal Leadership Challenge revealed that leadership was one of lowest ranked workplace categories, scoring 54.9 out of 100, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management’s 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. The data showed senior leaders receiving low rankings in a variety of areas, from the ability to generate motivation to managing employees fairly.

Despite the low rankings, the trend in leadership has improved steadily since the rankings debuted in 2003. [See Table 1].

Employee satisfaction with supervisors and senior leaders has also improved steadily since 2003. Employees ranked their satisfaction with their supervisors at 58.6 in 2003 and 63.9 in 2011. Employee satisfaction with senior leaders rose from 42.7 to 49.3, during that same period. The survey defines senior leaders as “the heads of agencies, departments and their senior management teams.”


Why are leadership scores lagging?

The report highlighted four rankings to illuminate the low rankings leaders received — Empowerment, Fairness, Senior Leaders and Supervisors. [See Table 2].

Only 46.3 percent of the feds responding to the survey said they experienced “personal empowerment with respect to work processes,” according to the report. Also, just 50.7 percent of the respondents felt satisfied with their participation in the decisions impacting their work.

Governmentwide Leadership – Table 2
Categories/questions 2011 percent positive
Empowerment 48.5
Fairness 54.3
Senior Leaders 49.3
Supervisors 63.9

Just 42.6 percent of respondents felt that senior leaders generated “high levels of motivation and commitment,” the report said, with only 48.1 percent feeling satisfied with the information senior leaders were providing them about the status of their organization.

In terms of honesty and respect, senior leaders ranked slightly above the 50 percent level. Of those surveyed, 52.9 percent felt their agency’s senior leaders “maintained high standards of honesty and integrity.” Also, just 53.5 percent expressed having a high level of respect for top management.

Leaders working closer to their employees received higher rankings, with 66.9 percent of employees saying their team leader or immediate supervisor was doing a good job. Likewise, 64.2 percent said those leaders gave them chances to show their leadership skills, and 63.8 reported that immediate supervisors backed employee development.

Employees ranked concerns over fairness at 54.3 percent, with only 48.6 percent of respondents feeling that “arbitrary action, personal favoritism and coercion” occurred in partisan political matters.

Best agencies for good leadership

The PPS also reported how large agencies and small agencies ranked (from 1 to 100) according to the survey.

The top five large agencies and their overall leadership scores were:

  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission – 72
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – 70.8
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration – 67
  • State Department – 61
  • Office of Personnel Management – 60.5.

With a ranking of 47.6, the Department of Homeland Security was at the bottom of the list of large agencies, followed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (47.7) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (49.5). Of those three, only HUD improved from its 2010 ranking, while both DHS and SEC dropped slightly.

The top five small agencies and their overall leadership scores were:

  • Surface Transportation Board – 82.5
  • Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board – 78.8
  • Federal Labor Relations Authority – 71.4
  • Overseas Private Investment Corporation – 70
  • Federal Trade Commission – 66.7.

Bottoming out the small agencies were the Broadcasting Board of Governors (45.2), International Boundary and Water Commission (45.5) and Federal Housing Finance Agency (46.9).

The report also contained Subcomponent Rankings on Effective Leadership, offering insight into effective leadership demonstrated by offices within departments.

The top five offices in those rankings were:

  • Office of Inspector General (Treasury)
  • John C. Stennis Space Center (NASA)
  • Environment and Natural Resources Division (Justice)
  • Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (NASA)
  • Civil Division (Justice).


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