Strategic Thinking for Federal Agency Leaders

In all its complexity, the federal government is responsible for many aspects of our lives while simultaneously addressing complex situations at home and abroad. A good agency leader thinks on their feet, reacts quickly, and then moves on to the next task. Great agency leaders use strategic thinking to go beyond reactionary, short-term thinking, and they challenge themselves and others to think ahead constantly.

Reactionary thinkers ensure that day-to-day tasks and short-term goals are achieved, which limits the individual’s — and the organization’s — growth and success. Tactical thinkers focus on the here and now, feeling like they are constantly juggling to keep the balls in the air. Strategic thinkers ask big questions, make connections others might miss, and find creative solutions to keep everything moving forward — juggling no longer required.

Our Federal Government Leadership Certificate Program helps leaders develop strategic thinking, communication, and government leadership skills to inspire others and drive mission success.

Here are some tactics strategic thinkers use to get you started on your journey.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

Strategic thinkers anticipate problems and get ahead of the situation. While tactical thinkers are always on, staying in this fight-or-flight mode narrows your experiences. Instead of focusing on what is, strategic thinking considers what could be. Seek out people, partnerships, and experiences that position you and your agency for future success. Think of it as watching what’s in the peripheral vision of your agency — what challenges could be coming — while keeping an eye on the horizon.

Think Critically, Interpret Wisely

Strategic thinkers constantly question everything, and what they do with the answers to smart questions matters. Strategic thinkers challenge the status quo. They reframe problems from the top-down and bottom-up, and they aren’t afraid to start from scratch when necessary. While gathering information and data from a wide variety of sources, they look for patterns and themes rather than reacting to a single point to influence a decision. Importantly, they listen to people from backgrounds different from their own and drink in different viewpoints to inform decisions and mitigate personal biases or blind spots.

Be Decisive, Stay Fluid

Strategic leaders learn to be decisive and not get stuck in an endless feedback loop searching for the perfect solution or consensus from all parties. Use everything you have learned to reach a decision while balancing speed and precision, and acknowledge that agreement is rare. Once you’ve acted, be flexible — part of strategic thinking is questioning assumptions, which may mean questioning your own. Adjust your course accordingly.

Take Everyone with You

Even the most impressive strategic thinker won’t get far without communicating their vision to others. Thrusting big changes onto staff can be scary, especially if they don’t know why something is happening or where they fit in. Communicate your thought process clearly, practice empathy, and open yourself to questions and feedback. You will learn what is and is not working and will be able to make improvements while making staff feel included. Create a strategy-based culture by providing opportunities for staff training. Our federal government leadership and management training courses provide your entire workforce with the government leadership and management training they need on diversity, team building, leadership, and performance. Our Leadership for Contracting Professionals Program helps contract leaders grow professionally and teaches them how to oversee contract management effectively. A single strategic leader may go far, but a whole team of strategic thinkers can accomplish anything.

Management Concepts is dedicated to helping the federal workforce excel. Strategic thinking is but one of the many essential qualities identified by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Senior Executive Service (SES) Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs). To develop or enhance this and other leadership qualities among your staff, please consider our Leadership & Management course offerings for leaders at every level.

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