National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA Senior Executive Service tells all

March 19, 2019

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NNSA’s Jim McConnell, left, joined a panel about the pros and cons of the Senior Executive Service.
NNSA’s Jim McConnell, left, joined a panel about the pros and cons of the Senior Executive Service.

To whom much is given, much is expected. The members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) know this well. A panel of representatives spoke candidly about the pros and cons of SES positions at a recent “Aspiring Leaders Series” discussion at NNSA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

SES is a federal executive personnel system, and is recognized as the civilian workforce cadre that serves top-level managerial and leadership roles in the federal government.. Both the Department of Energy (DOE) and NNSA have exceptional women and men who are designated as such for their well-honed leadership skills and broad perspectives of government and public service. Current members of the SES were able to speak directly to the workforce and help them decide if the path of leadership is right for them. The panel discussion was sponsored by NNSA’s Office of Employee Empowerment and broadcast across the Nuclear Security Enterprise via video teleconferencing.

“There’s a class of problems that you get to tackle as an SES member. The problems are generally larger, more complicated, more significant, and more impactful to the mission,” said James McConnell, Associate Administrator for NNSA’s Office of Safety, Infrastructure, and Operations.

“Both the challenge itself and the opportunity to have access to a diverse group of people to address those large challenges, that’s the most exciting and motivating thing about it for me,” he said.

McConnell was joined by Western Area Power Administration Senior Vice President Dawn Lindell, DOE Deputy Associate Under Secretary for Security Dr. Gerald Curry, and Office of Science Budget Director Kathleen Klausing.

His fellow panelists similarly spoke of the far-reaching positive impact one can have when given the opportunity to serve in the SES. The employees in these positions get to interact with a broad range of colleagues and see the whole picture of how the mission gets accomplished, rather than have a single, specific role.

When it came time to explain the drawbacks, all of the participants spoke of “always being on the clock” and the perils of work-life balance. However, McConnell took a different tack. He posed the questions, “What does this opportunity cost? What is it you can’t do in the SES?”

“One way to describe it is that you can’t be the expert contributor on any one topic,” McConnell said. “A lot of people rightfully get satisfaction from being a subject matter expert, and NNSA cannot survive without those people. It’s perfectly OK if that’s what they want. I like having the control over something and being able to work on it from beginning to end too, but nowadays I only get to do that when I’m at home woodworking.”

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