Identifies and analyzes problems, distinguishes between relevant and irrelevant information to make logical decisions, and provides solutions to individual and organization problems.


Problems are often ill-structured situations and may not be recognized as problems until they loom large.  Leaders identify emerging problems so that they may be addressed before they become critical and cause damage to the organization or its objectives.  Successful problem solving must include the application of critical thinking so as to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant factors, identify the dimensions of the problem, and explore multiple options.  Leaders use collaborative problem solving processes to yield a fuller, deeper understanding of the problem, expand the ownership of the situation, focus multiple and diverse resources on the issue, and enhance the likelihood of a successful solution. 

How do First Appointment Leaders Demonstrate This Competency?

First appointment leaders should be results driven and open to alternatives.    They establish team processes and strategies that look beyond traditional boundaries, ideas and approaches.  They communicate organizational changes and help the team plan new processes, actions, and short term goals to meet those changes.  They apply problem solving techniques to issues of change.  Leaders assess the underlying causes and forces behind behavior patterns and organize their resources and activities to deal with longer-term problems and opportunities.  

Elements of the Competency and Distinguishing Behaviors


Distinguishing Behaviors

Anticipates problems and identifies steps to prevent their occurrence.

  • Understands the organization’s strategic plan and makes course corrections or modifies unit goals and processes in order to accommodate new and changing circumstances.
  • Identifies the need for modifications or reengineering by reviewing programs, processes and progress.
  • Recognizes the interdependencies of all organizational units and collaborates to address problems, maximize resources, share information, and achieve outcomes.
  • Responds to threats or problems.
  • Manages personal and organizational sources of conflict to realize long-term improvements.
  • Recognizes team and team member performance and plans strategically to optimize strengths while minimizing the impact of weaknesses.
  • Works closely with internal and external stakeholders to ensure that all perspectives and interests are understood.
  • Seeks legal and ethical advice when necessary.
  • Does not allow the policy or resource challenges to slow the progress/productivity of the team.

Solves problems affecting the work of the organization.

  • Learns from past actions and shares lessons learned with others.
  • Facilitates critical thinking throughout the group.
  • Owns up to mistakes to self and others.
  • Enables team members to weigh potential solutions and initiatives for appropriateness and feasibility.
  • Accurately assesses the root causes and forces behind individual or group behavior patterns.
  • Makes necessary on-the-spot corrections to actions.
  • Enlists help from appropriate people in problem-solving.

Identifies and evaluates alternative courses of action.

  • Assumes responsibilities for risks taken and actions embarked upon.
  • Establishes team processes and strategies that look beyond traditional boundaries, ideas and approaches.
  • Creates and maintains a diverse collaborative team environment that promotes creativity and open discussion.
  • Generates multiple solutions to problems and routinely develops and weighs alternatives before settling on a solution.
  • Learns from past actions and shares lessons learned with others.
  • Delegates problem-solving to empower others to take the initiative, developing individual team members.
  • Challenges team members to take a different perspective.
  • Leads the team in techniques that might offer new perspectives, ideas or solutions.

Implements the changes necessary to make solutions work.

  • Helps the team plan new processes, actions and short term goals.
  • Communicates the need for change to meet critical organizational objectives and new realities.
  • Understands the drivers of people’s behavior and the impact of emotions and feelings on a situation.
  • Ensures employees understand expectations, objectives and processes.
  • Breaks down complex problems and situations into discrete parts that are easier to understand and to manage.
  • Facilitates stakeholder understanding of our goals, processes, timelines, roles, and resources.
  • Measures the success of chosen approaches.
  • Recognizes when a solution is sufficient enough to achieve results, while tackling underlying causes.
  • Provides feedback on the team’s contribution to organizational objectives and gives credit to those who contributed to the solution.
  • Identifies and resolves team/unit breakdowns resulting from change.

Developmental Activities

There are numerous activities an employee may engage in that provide the opportunity to develop this competency at the First Appointment leader 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

  • Become an officer on a community board.
  • Volunteer to be on a team/project that is trying to solve an important issue.
  • Shadow a higher-level leader who is working on a complex project.

Supporting Developmental Activities

Experiential Developmental Details or Assignments

  • Develop, discuss and review performance measures with your employees.
  • Read a book on an applicable topic.
  • Interview a good problem solver to learn how he/she does it.
  • Join the safety committee of your organization.
  • Take up a hobby that requires complex problem solving skills; i.e., chess, Sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles, etc.
  • Participate in an after-action review of a project or event.


  • Apply for the FWS Stepping Up to Leadership Program.
  • Apply for the Wildlife Society Leadership Institute.
  • Learn a variety of modeling techniques, risk analysis and cost benefit analysis techniques.
  • Learn how to develop performance plans and use an Individual Development Plan (IDP).
  • Invest in team training for your unit.
  • Invest in training that enables members to better weigh potential solutions and initiatives for appropriateness and feasibility.
  • Learn about ethical decision-making tools as well as Federal ethics regulations and other laws which might pertain to problems.
  • Review Department of the Interior Ethics Office Library.
  • Attend a course on effective communication, change management, problem solving, decision making, conflict management, dealing with difficult people, etc.
  • Take an assessment that teaches “how and why people are different” – i.e., Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), or looks at behavioral styles and preferences (i.e. DISC).
  • Learn about how groups function and how group dynamics evolve.
  • Attend Introduction to Structured Decision Making training.
  • Attend Crucial Conversations© Workshop.

First Appointment Leader Competencies