Leadership Development

Leadership Development Programs

As NASA phases out the Shuttle and moves into the Constellation era, it is critically important that we, as an Agency, have the next generation of leaders prepared to face the challenges ahead of us. This next generation needs to be able to form internal and external partnerships, be skilled in communication, and know how to work collaboratively across programs, projects, and centers. We need to ensure that our future leaders are getting the experiences they need today to gain these skills so that they can lead tomorrow.

A critical component of the strategy to accomplish this goal is having Agency-level leadership development programs that serve a broad range of employees — from new hires to those ready now for the Senior Executive Service (SES). From an Agency perspective, we have three long-term development programs that serve this purpose: the NASA Foundations of Influence, Relationships, Success, and Teamwork (FIRST) Program; the NASA Leadership Development Program (LDP); and the NASA SES Candidate Development Program (SESCDP).


NASA FIRST is the Agency’s leadership development program for GS-11 and 12 engineers, scientists, and administrative professionals. The program focuses on developing leadership capabilities and intra-Agency collaboration in individuals who are truly our next generation of leaders charged with implementing the Vision for Space Exploration. Not only do the participants in this program learn leadership skills that they will carry with them for their entire careers, but they also work on center projects that have a direct impact on the NASA mission.

For instance, the Langley Research Center participants addressed the ever important issue of working across generations to achieve mission success. Their project, “A Generational Investigation to Increase Langley’s Insight about Today’s and Tomorrow’s Young Professionals,” produced Center recommendations on how to address motivation, communication, and perceptions among different generational groups. The project recommendations will increase Langley’s effectiveness in building cross-generational relationships which will enable technical excellence and knowledge sharing.

I have spoken to the NASA FIRST class — well, actually, I came and met with the group and we spent the entire time having more of a dialogue. The participants were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that I did not need to give a formal “talk” at all. My deputy, Charles Scales, recently participated in the NASA FIRST graduation ceremony and reinforced my extremely favorable impression of this group. I also have spoken with the LDP class and participated in the graduation ceremony for the 2007 class. I cannot say enough positive things about this program and its participants.

NASA Leadership Development Program (LDP)

The LDP is a year-long leadership program for GS-13 through GS-15 managers who have responsibilities that require engaging and uniting others under a shared vision to achieve program goals and mission success. The participants engage in assignments at other NASA Centers or external to the Agency to gain a greater Agency and government-wide perspective to increase their effectiveness as leaders. The focus of this program is on its return-on-investment to the Agency, and you can look at some great success stories of this at http://ldp.nasa.gov/stories.htm.

What I find particularly exciting about this program is that the entire class engages in a project that directly impacts the mission. I was thrilled to learn that the 2007 LDP class decided to partner with the Office of Communications Planning (OCP) on internal and external communications. Communications and outreach are topics that I consider a high priority for NASA as it is vital for the public to understand NASA’s goals for exploration in order to make it sustainable over generations. Recent market analysis has shown that many in the American public do not feel that NASA is relevant to their lives. The LDP class challenged themselves to figure out a way to capture the amazing things that NASA is doing and to translate the results in such a way that the American public could see specific societal impacts.

The LDP class decided to focus the project on three specific areas. First, it created a catalog of NASA results and achievements. Next, the class mapped these results to demonstrate specific societal benefits and the impact these achievements have on the every day lives of Americans. The class then developed a toolkit for speakers based on the mapping, so the stories could be communicated and the relevance of NASA could be demonstrated to various audiences. Over the course of nine months, the LDP team of 17 people achieved great results. The class helped the OCP with crafting stories designed to communicate NASA’s relevance to the public and developed a list of societal benefit areas. A database of 107 stories of direct benefit to the public now exists so that NASA can have a repository from which to demonstrate how our work has a positive impact on all of our lives. The next step is to make this information accessible so that when people hear about NASA, they immediately feel a connection. This is imperative to our success as an Agency and a nation. I am so pleased with and impressed by their work.

Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program (SESCDP)

The third Agency leadership development program is the SESCDP. This program is designed for senior managers who are expected to be NASA’s next cadre of senior executives. Participants are already experts in their technical areas before entering the program, so the program focuses on developing executive-level competence in areas that are critical to the success of government executives, such as Leading People, Leading Change, and Communications. Many members of our current Agency leadership team have participated in the SESCDP: our Associate Administrator, Associate Deputy Administrator, and the Associate Administrator for Space Operations to name a few.

Not only is the SESCDP a succession management tool to ensure we have capable people in senior management positions, but the developmental assignments that participants engage in during their program year help us to build partnerships among the centers and external to NASA. The current participants are involved in developmental assignments ranging from the Exploration Launch Office, to being Program Executive for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, to working with the Under Secretary for Science at the Smithsonian Institution, to building relationships with our industry partners. The SESCDP participants also are required to establish a mentoring relationship and shadow senior officials. I have had the opportunity to be a mentor as well as have SESCDP participants shadow me. I am pleased to be able to assist with this important program that is developing our senior executives.

These three programs play a major role in making sure NASA is successful in the mandate we have been given. They help to ensure that we have leaders in place today who are capable of undertaking the huge challenges we face. Perhaps more importantly, however, they enable us to look out in the future to ensure NASA’s success in 2015, 2020, and beyond.