Illustrated group of people


Opportunities to improve government leadership development programs

A survey of federal government executives

As federal agencies are being asked to restructure and operate more like the private sector, federal government executives report a concerning lack of empowerment and ability to drive change, according to a new survey by the Senior Executives Association (SEA) and Deloitte of more than 750 Senior Executive Service (SES) members and those in equivalent positions. The survey reveals a number of concerns leaders have related to their leadership pipeline, executive readiness, and ability to transform government agencies.

By the numbers

  • Only 35 percent of respondents said that career senior leaders are selected based on their ability to inspire teams
  • Only 22 percent of respondents agreed that their agency is well-prepared to retain top talent
  • Only 27 percent agreed that their agency has a plan to attract talent from outside the federal government
  • Less than half of respondents believed that leaders are equipped with digital skills to enhance government
  • Fifty percent of senior leaders believe their agency considers how future workforce trends impact their work

Back to top

Leadership pipeline

Government is not attracting and retaining top talent, and agencies struggle to identify and promote high-potential leaders over employees with strong technical expertise. Of those surveyed, only 22 percent felt their agency is well prepared to retain top talent. Survey respondents felt an increased focus on soft skills will be required to lead federal agencies moving forward. Roughly 76 percent of respondents said there are exciting opportunities for workers of all ages, but less than half believe current government leadership understands how to manage a multi-generational workforce.

Back to top

Executive readiness

Federal executives express concern over leadership development opportunities, and the root cause appears to stem from a need for better infrastructure. Preparing existing leaders for the changing needs of their agencies and roles is not being addressed equally across agencies, according to respondents. Government leadership development and training programs should include a stronger focus on making agency leaders life-long learners to keep them at the forefront of innovation.

Back to top


Transformational leadership

Agencies are not prepared for the future of work, and even the most senior executive leaders believe significant innovation and collaboration are discouraged by institutional or cultural barriers. Furthermore, only 28 percent of respondents felt their agencies had systems in place to enable knowledge-sharing across government leadership. Although 96 percent believe they are accountable for promoting collaboration within their teams to achieve their mission, only 28 percent believe systems are in place to enable knowledge-sharing across career senior leaders in government.

Back to top


Action step checklist

Deloitte and SEA outlined a number of steps government executives can take to start addressing these challenges, including:

  • Use evidence-based assessments to identify high-potential individuals with leadership skills, not just technical expertise
  • Design leadership development and training programs that build leadership capabilities through challenging experiences and frequent exposure to diverse leaders inside and outside the organization
  • Focus on re-evaluating the work and the workforce of tomorrow in order to make hiring decisions, as opposed to just filling open needs

Back to top


Fullwidth SCC. Do not delete! This box/component contains JavaScript that is needed on this page. This message will not be visible when page is activated.