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Executive Leadership at NASA: A Behavioral Framework was conducted from June 2008 to March 2009. Its purpose was to identify behaviors and attributes exhibited by the agency’s most successful executives. Participants included NASA executives who served at some point in their NASA careers as technical managers of projects requiring systems development, possessed a systems engineering orientation, and successfully applied those talents and behaviors in their executive roles.

The study investigated behaviors and attributes of 14 NASA executives at NASA Headquarters and field centers whom agency leadership identified as highly effective in their roles, and who possessed a technical background or systems orientation that contributed to their success. Study methodology and protocol mirrored that used in the NASA Systems Engineering Behavior Study. It included interviewing, observing and shadowing participants. Findings identified a shared set of effective executive behaviors evident across centers, reinforced and extended those of the previous study and resulted in a behavioral framework for technical managers seeking to transition into executive roles.

Data gathered to answer the question “What are the behaviors and attributes that enable individuals to become successful executives at NASA?” clustered into elements within six broad themes. Four of theseleadership, attitudes and attributes, communication, and problem solving and systems thinkingwere among the five identified in the earlier study. In the current study, executive presence emerged as a sub-theme within attitudes and attributes, and two new themes, political savvy and strategic thinking, also surfaced.

This extended study has allowed us to identify behaviors and attributes that enable individuals to become successful NASA executives who achieve mission success. These findings, combined with those from the previous study, will contribute to agency efforts to create training and learning strategies that support career-long employee development and to ensure that NASA has executives ready and able to take on the complex work of leading NASA’s future missions. This report presents the six broad themes identified from the interviews, observations, and shadowing activities, as well as the associated representative observable behaviors and attributes.

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