Identifies the internal and external politics that impact the work of the organization, approaches each problem situation with a clear perception of organizational and political reality, and recognizes the impact of alternative courses of action.


Political savvy is essential in every organization and is a critical competency in a governmental organization that is buffeted by multiple stakeholders, has limited resources, and operates in the constantly changing dynamics of a democratic political system.  Those who are politically savvy have knowledge of the internal and external systems and the ways in which those systems function in both their organization and in the larger political environment.  They have a clear sense of mission and maintain a current understanding of the political, social, technological, economic and demographic environment in which they operate.  Political savvy and emotional intelligence aid the public servant in building consensus and gaining the cooperation of others, which are essential to partnering, strategic thinking, vision, conflict management, and influencing others.  Political savvy is vital at the upper levels of an Agency.  It must be learned and skills honed so that departmental and/or organizational policies may reflect public interests, emerging concerns may be integrated into new program policies, and the Agency may be effective and advance its mission.

How do Executive Leaders (GS-15 and SES) Demonstrate This Competency?

Executive Leaders have a strategic understanding of the Agency, and its mission.  They maintain a constant awareness of the external environment gathering information on public, political, and internal issues, building support and promoting the agency image using this knowledge of external trends, underlying issues, and political reality to guide and shape the strategy of the organization to achieve maximum impact and effectiveness.   The Executive leader is politically adroit in addressing, informing and negotiating buy-in from all key stakeholders, addressing their needs without compromising organizational integrity.  They continuously broaden networks of relationships and use media advocacy effectively to shape the way an issue is viewed.  Executive leaders assemble coalitions and build broad-based support for initiatives and directives while advancing federal policy initiatives by integrating them into new program policies that are consistent with the strategic direction of the agency.

Elements of the Competency and Distinguishing Behaviors


Distinguishing Behaviors

Understands the Federal government, the Service, and the systems within the Bureau, including the major functions, departments, and processes within the Service.

  • Communicates the full context of the strategic direction of the Service and the policy development initiatives, structures, mission goals, partnering relationships, and legislative dynamics in the face of evolving environmental realities.
  • Establishes connections with diverse organizational interests to effectively communicate priorities and strategic direction, build organizational credibility, and generate external support for conservation goals.
  • Integrates a global perspective in decision making that considers national and international events impacting the agency’s capacity to accomplish its conservation mission.
  • Anticipates resistance to agency positions on issues and takes proactive steps to address opposing arguments through constructive dialog.      

Understands the Agency’s mission; knows the issues at the heart of the Agency’s policy agenda.

  • Identifies potential barriers to the accomplishment of the Agency’s strategic direction and implements proactive steps to mitigate obstacles.
  • Creates mechanisms that provide stakeholders with constructive means to express concerns and addresses issues in a manner that preserves the integrity of the organization.
  • Synthesizes differing perspectives and incorporates feedback to improve Agency responsiveness to constituent issues and mission accomplishment.
  • Creates a culture that values and pursues customer focused input and feedback about agency policy.

Understands the climate and culture of the organization, its formal and informal power structures; recognizes decision influencers; recognizes legitimate limits to the organization’s reach.

  • Influences the Service’s strategy to achieve its conservation goals by taking all internal and external factors into account that affect the ability to accomplish the Service mission.
  • Demonstrates a keen understanding of the complimentary and competing impacts that Federal agencies, state agencies, tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations have on the ability of the Service to accomplish its conservation goals.
  • Develops and implements collaborative strategies that leverage the interdependent interests of diverse partners in accomplishing Service conservation goals.
  • Adapts strategies to preserve important partnering relationships based on changes in organizational capability and capacity.

Identifies, builds, influences and strengthens internal support bases.

  • Informs and negotiates buy-in from all key stakeholders.
  • Works effectively with elected officials at the Federal, state, and local level and uses knowledge gained from interactions to remove obstacles to mission accomplishment.
  • Proactively uses diverse media venues to effectively communicate the mission of the agency or address agency criticisms.
  • Tailors messages that effectively communicate specific aspects of agency policy to targeted audiences.
  • Uses the media effectively to obtain input and debate about policy issues.
  • Inspires public appreciation and trust in the agency’s mission activities through personal example and agency policies, procedures, products and services. 

Developmental Activities

There are numerous activities an employee may engage in that provide the opportunity to develop this competency at the Executive (GS-15 and SES) level.   These activities may include, but are not limited to, on-the-job experience, details, shadow assignments, participating in training as a leader or participant and other life experiences.   These activities provide the opportunity to develop for those dedicated to their individual growth as a leader.  Specific examples of developmental opportunities for this competency include:

Primary Developmental Activities

  • Volunteer for a detail in External Affairs or similar position in a non-governmental organization (NGO).
  • Volunteer for a detail in International Affairs within the Service or with another federal agency.
  • Work on a high-interest project that requires Congressional support.
  • Reflect on whether you are sensitive to others, can read non-verbal signals of others, and know how to get things done inside and outside the organization.

Supporting Developmental Activities

Experiential Developmental Details or Assignments

  • Take a 360-degree assessment tool as a way to receive feedback from others.
  • Reflect on whether others trust you and if you are seen as having high integrity.
  • Continue to master interpersonal skills and build relationships inside and outside the organization. 
  • Ensure you know “who’s who” and their roles and responsibilities in the Service and with other outside partners.
  • Reflect on whether you are savvy with only select groups.  Separate people from the problem.
  • Maintain flexibility and resilience, and expect the unexpected.
  • Seek out a coach or mentor within the organization.  Inquire about shadowing opportunities.
  • Attend Congressional subcommittee hearings, and learn as much as you can about the political process through reading and asking questions.
  • Practice not “thinking out loud” when others are around. 
  • Join a local Toastmasters club to sharpen your presentation skills.
  • Consider the impact of your behaviors on others.


Executive Leader Competencies