Integrating the Competencies into Your “Leading People” Narrative

By Barbara Adams, President and CEO of CareerPro Global, Inc.

With very few exceptions, almost every Senior Executive Service (SES) position you apply for will require you to submit Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) narratives. While it is important to ensure the executive competency examples you provide match the ECQ titles of Leading Change, Leading People, Results Driven, Business Acumen, and Building Coalitions, that’s not enough.  The best way to write for the OPM leadership competencies is to first select a topic that makes sense for that particular ECQ, and then look at the specific executive competencies and ask yourself whether you can address most or all of them effectively.

Let’s talk about Leading People, for example. Imagine a senior military officer who is retiring after 20 years of distinguished service and trying to enter the SES. Now, imagine that he/she is writing his/her Leading People narrative. This individual is clearly a strong leader, and had led organizations of more than 1,000 people and provided executive oversight to 12 different organization comprised of more than 100,000 people stationed around the world.

Now, let’s say this individual provides a great description of all this leadership, but focuses purely on leadership philosophy and the complex missions the organization had to accomplish. Shouldn’t those folks in the Qualifications Review Board (QRB) still be able to tell what a great leader this person is? Maybe, but maybe not. Even though this individual is clearly a seasoned leader with worldwide experience in a variety of field and office environments, the OPM leadership competency likely won’t pass muster and the board will deny it.


Because the competencies were not addressed. The important thing to remember here is that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has been very specific about HOW it wants executive competency examples presented. So, even though every example is different, every career is different, and there is no “cookie-cutter” way to write an ECQ narrative, there are certain criteria that a strong ECQ should meet. First, OPM wants specific examples presented in the Challenge-Context-Action-Result (CCAR) format. However, more importantly, OPM wants the examples to be expressed through the “lens” of the competencies. If these criteria (along with a few others) are not met, the board will probably reject the applicant’s ECQs.

Let’s get back to our OPM leadership competency example. It’s not enough that this individual provided an example that clearly “proves” his/her leadership experience. Unfortunately, this applicant failed to tell the story through the lens of the competencies. In other words, while providing this great story of leading large organizations through major challenges, this individual failed to describe how he/she built the team, developed individual members of the team, leveraged diversity, and managed conflict (the four competencies required for Leading People).

One of the best ways to ensure you address the competencies in any ECQ is to turn those competencies into questions, and then answer those questions in the “action” section of your narrative. Regardless of what a great leader you are, and how logical it seems that your OPM leadership examples demonstrate your leadership, go back to the competencies. If you don’t weave those into the narrative, you are at serious risk of being rejected by the QRB. Here are some of the questions you might ask when writing up your Leading People narrative:

  • What did you do to specifically build a more cohesive team environment? Did you hold weekly meetings or social gatherings, or provide incentives, awards, time off, etc.? (team building)
  • Did you have to handle conflicts between two or more employees or offices? What did you do to resolve the situation constructively? (conflict management)
  • Did you provide opportunities for or encourage staff to enroll in professional development opportunities or extend anyone’s responsibilities to a higher level of job description or expectation? (developing others)
  • Did you encourage female candidates in a traditionally male-dominated field or recruit to minority groups? (leveraging diversity)
  • Did you select teams for projects that included a diverse mix of individuals—professionally, educationally, culturally, etc.? (leveraging diversity)
  • Did you utilize intern programs, fellowships, or other professional development programs to recruit young talent? Did you then arrange for them to be mentored into the mainstream? (developing others/leveraging diversity)

You can find job-winning, OPM-approved executive competency examples and a complete set of ECQ builders in our book, Roadmap to the Senior Executive Service. Get your copy today by clicking on this link or searching the title on Amazon.

Barbara Adams is the President and CEO of CareerPro Global, Inc. (CPG). She has been on the leading edge of SES application development for decades. Committed to providing world-class service, she has also built an SES writing team that has assisted more than 2,500 clients develop their application materials. Ms. Adams has been featured on TV and radio and as a presenter at numerous career conferences. CPG recently sent a team to instruct senior officials at Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, in best practices for developing their SES application materials. She is the co-author of the new book, Roadmap to the Senior Executive Service: How to Find SES Jobs, Determine Your Qualifications, and Develop Your SES Application.

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