How to qualify for a Senior Management role in government

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For those interested in becoming senior government leaders, the process can be daunting but, very rewarding.

Guidelines for becoming a senior government leader

It takes time, effort, patience, and the development of critical management skills to become an executive in government, but there are steps you can take to better understand the process and requirements to increase your chances of success.

As a starting point, applicants should examine the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) five Executive Core Competencies. These are “leading change” (the ability to establish and implement an organisational vision), “leading people” (the ability to foster the development of others, manage conflict and facilitate teamwork), “results-driven” (the ability to meet organisational goals, solve problems and meet customer expectations), “business acumen” (the ability to strategically manage human, financial and information resources) and “building coalitions” (political savvy, negotiation skills and the ability to work with internal and external partners).

There are other fundamental competencies that come with the territory, including interpersonal skills, oral and written communication, integrity, a knack for continual learning, and motivation for public service.

To build your resume, you will need experiences that challenge and foster your professional growth, seek out challenging assignments, including positions that require problem-solving opportunities, jobs that need to be started from scratch, a role on an interagency task force, or rotations to other offices or department where you can learn new skills and new ways of doing things.

As part of your personal development, you should also seek out some successful Senior leaders as mentors. You do not have to make a formal mentoring request, but you can ask leaders you respect and admire for insights into what’s helped them advance in their careers and overcome adversity.

You also will need to understand the rules of the game, and in particular, the hiring process for executives. Study the Local government: municipal systems Act 2000 (Act No. 32 of 2000) Local Government, Regulations on Appointment and Conditions of Employment of Senior Managers.

Courses that can be advantageous for you when applying for a senior government role

To qualify for a senior management role in government you should at least possess qualifications that align with the department and industry. A certificate for entry into the SMS (Senior Management Service) might also help. Further to that, short courses in management, leadership, and personal development such as the Senior Management Service course, Public Management, or an MBA can be more advantageous. These courses will equip you with practical experience in dealing with the day-to-day challenges that top managers go through and ways to solve or deal with such challenges.

You can also participate in emotional intelligence, conflict management, and personal development workshops. Wits have a Senior Leaders Development Programme which can be helpful. The course gives insights on how to deal with working with different people from other cultures, with different values, and in teams. These courses are the key to succeed in the senior management role because you will be dealing with people and make decisions that can impact the department negatively or positively.  

These core qualifications are the basis for government requirement agency decisions and understanding these requirements can help you assess your strengths and determine where you may fall short. Take the time to honestly evaluate yourself relative to these standards.

While you might be able to stay in one organisation for most of your career and rise to the top, government senior management roles are increasingly requiring people with experience in multiple departments, organisations, and work environments when filling their senior positions. To advance, you may very well need to move out of your comfort zone.

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