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Professional Development Guide Topics

NASA is experiencing a time of dynamic change. Created to challenge the known limits of science and engineering, NASA led many of the technological changes that shape our society today. Being part of this great technological revolution of the late twentieth century, we are aware that technology is not the only thing that is changing.
Over the past several years NASA has experienced dramatic social and economic shifts that have radically altered the way we do business. These shifts require us to constantly challenge our assumptions about what knowledge, skills and abilities are required to manage the agency. This changing environment makes professional development planning increasingly difficult.

The Professional Development Guide
This guide is intended to help managers and employees prepare for the future by capturing the knowledge and skills that made NASA a success. Hundreds of employees contributed their time and energy to the studies included in this guide, and we are grateful for their support.

Although professional development programs have been implemented at the center level, this program is designed to provide an Agency-level context within the strategic objectives of NASA for seven disciplines including:

  • Project Management
  • Secretarial/Clerical
  • Engineering (under development)
  • Safety, Reliability, Maintainability and Quality Assurance (under development)
  • Human Resources Development
  • Procurement
  • Program Control

    Specifically these research studies resulted in four products for each discipline:
    Typical career paths of existing professionals in each discipline.

  • Recommendations for and sequencing of key job positions and experiences for developing individuals within and between disciplines.
  • Requirements such as knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences, and other characteristics necessary for effective performance at the different discipline levels.
  • Training and developmental experiences that are useful for individuals in each discipline during different phases of their careers.

    Common Basic Skills

    Each section describes the knowledge, skills and abilities NASA leaders have found contributed to their success. In addition to these professional specifics, the future will require every employee at NASA to have three basic skills, regardless of their position.


    All futures are uncertain, that's what makes them so exciting, and so frightening. In the past, change was more gradual and somewhat predictable. We had time to adjust. If we really did not like the change we could sometimes dodge it fairly effectively. Not any more. Change is inevitable and accelerating all the time. Employees who resist change now are finding it impossible to stay productive and achieve results.

    For employees to be effective they need to be flexible and adaptable. They need to ensure that they have a broad range of skills that will allow them to adjust to changing situations. Employees will also need to develop a greater ability to work with ambiguity and incomplete direction, as the accelerated changes will not always allow time for work to be clearly defined.
    Computer Skills:

    Once reserved for scientific calculations and word processing the computer has become a key tool in managing all of the agency's work. Internet is making it possible to stay in closer touch with our international partners; e-mail has stimulated electronic networking and eliminated the need for many face-to-face meetings; and expanded software has automated hundreds of jobs throughout the agency.

    Employees need to be knowledgeable and proficient in the use of computers in order to stay informed about the agency and to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. As budget cuts reduce staff, NASA will become more dependent on automation to continue to meet its mission.

    Communication Skills:

    As the number of agency employees decreases, the hierarchy historically relied upon to transmit information and provide the structure we use to get our jobs done, will become less central. Employee at all levels will now need to convey information and negotiate with others to get cooperation and support . With organizational boundaries reduced, work will be done through teams and partnerships and in many cases it will be non-management employees who will be responsible for building the relationships that cause the work to get done.

    Updates to the Professional Development Guide
    Professional development studies have been planned for all major disciplines at NASA. This is not meant to exclude "less than major" disciplines which can be just as crucial to the success of the NASA missions. It only indicates the priority which prevails in the process. More information is being gathered and will be provided as updates to this Guide.


    1.0 Professional Development Philosophy

    Employees' professional development is a shared responsibility. In order to design a successful career each employee needs to take personal responsibility to create a plan and initiate actions that will lead them to their goal. NASA and the nation benefit when all employees are able to develop their potential and make greater contributions. To optimize current and future employee contributions, supervisors and managers must be actively involved with their employees in developing their career plan. This involvement includes periodic assessments of each employee's knowledge, skill, ability, and experience. This assessment then leads to developmental planning for work assignments and training that promote NASA and the employee's goals.

    Professional development for an individual will contribute to improved performance. The purpose of professional development is to enhance current performance and enable individuals to take advantage of future opportunities. Professional development cannot be directly associated with a promotion or increased pay.

    Senior managers and subject matter experts in each professional discipline will guide and shape the scope and content of professional development for that discipline. Managers and subject matter experts are especially qualified to determine the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences required for success at each stage of an individual's professional growth. These managers and experts are also well positioned to anticipate changing work force requirements and associated development needs.

    Personnel in similar disciplines will share tools and approaches and be "universally assignable" across the Agency. Common tools and approaches will improve efficiency, decrease turnaround times, reduce down time, improve customer service and cut cost. For example, NASA should be able to expect project managers to understand and have experienced the same tools and language at their installation as they would if they were to work on a similar project in another installation.

    Information concerning professional development processes will be available to all employees. Information provided to NASA employees is available to help them identify options and develop plans to realize their professional development goals.

    Employees should anticipate what is required to develop in their current development paths or to bridge to different ones. Employees will have access to professional development path information to assist them in understanding the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences required to advance within or between disciplines.


    2.0 Individual, Management and Organization Responsibilities

      Employees must:
    • Determine what they want their career to be.
    • Assess their aptitudes strengths, and development needs with their supervisor.
    • Work with their supervisor to develop an Individual Development Plan (IDP) that supports both the current job and longer term professional goals.
    • Work with their supervisors to schedule appropriate on-the-job training, required complementary formal training, and development activities.
      Managers must:
    • Support the development and training of their subordinates.
    • Determine the job-related knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences employees need to effectively accomplish the work of the organization.
    • Counsel, coach and guide employees in their professional development planning.
    • Help the employee define the short- and long-term development and training needs.
      Organizations must:
    • Assure an organizational structure exists that supports the required knowledge, skills, abilities and experience development of its employees.
    • Provide resources dollars and time for development to occur.