NASA engineer turns ‘Shark’ as part of federal SES candidate development program

  • Published
  • By Chrissy Cuttita
  • 45th Space Wing Public Affairs
For one of the 24 federal employees enrolled in a highly-competitive Senior Executive Service (SES) Candidate Development Program, her ideal location to spend a four-month rotation was a simple choice - the 45th Space Wing.

Becky Murray, Deputy Chief, Operations, Electrical Division in the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, has recently settled in to her new temporary office space within the halls of the 45th SW headquarters building to develop the leadership skills needed to complete NASA's SES program. Additionally, she will experience the military life that always surrounded her growing up and working on the Space Coast.

"Recent jobs gave me some level of understanding but I wanted to dig deeper," said Murray, who looks forward to being a liaison between KSC and the 45th SW, who share a long history of space exploration together in her hometown. "It is important to collaborate together and build upon what we have. I, literally, always wanted to do this."

The "bug" to follow her father's footsteps hit her when she was an elementary school student in the local area. Now, together, they share an experience of being behind the scenes of America's human spaceflight with her father working for NASA during the start of the Shuttle program and her being on the team that closed those operations.

"Working in a different federal agency offers her a completely different view," said Lisa Arnold, Executive Resources Program Manager at KSC. "Becky demonstrated a broad experience base with increasing responsibilities and scope of influence. She has experience leading diverse groups from the Space Shuttle Program, the Commercial Crew Program, the Human Resources Office, and Engineering. She is a true leader that can take any group, regardless of their technical discipline, and lead them toward a collective vision that supports the Agency's mission.  What she will gain from this program is a fine-tuning of her leadership competencies."

Leaders at the 45th SW said it is an honor to have Murray's expertise on their team as they work with NASA to support the commercial space industry at CCAFS and NASA. 

"This is a win-win for both of our organizations," said Tom Eye, director of 45th SW Plans and Programs Office. "Leaders in the federal government benefit from the experiences and skills they gain outside their home organizations. As we move our spaceport into the future, Becky will be in the perfect position of leading the next generation of America's space operations. Having been certified by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management after completing the same program a few years back, I have an understanding what she and her mentor desire for this developmental assignment at the 45th SW." 

Any federal agency who hosts a SES Candidate Development Program must have the curriculum approved by the U.S. OPM. NASA happens to be the agency hosting the course Murray is in, however the course was advertised as an opportunity for all federal agency employees graded General Service 14 or 15.

The measure of success in the SES Candidate Development Program is an executive development plan Murray had to create on her own, with the help of peers, to prove she meets the qualifications the Office of Personnel Management requires for SES ranked federal employees. The list includes five key areas; leading change, leading people, results driven, business acumen and building coalitions.

"There is a lot of self-reflecting," said Murray. "I looked at feedback from previous managers, co-workers, supervisors--honest feedback from someone else's point of view. I also look to mentors in my career field."

For example, she knew one of the areas she needed to strengthen was business acumen which involves the ability to manage financial resources strategically. Therefore, Murray selected a senior financial officer at NASA to be her mentor to gain familiarity in the area, harness leadership traits and shadow operations to target wherever personal development was needed to achieve her SES goal.

"Each participant must work with their mentor and the SES CDP Program Manager at NASA headquarters to find detail assignments that help fill personal skill gaps and/or stretch them a bit with their leadership skills," said Arnold.

Attending corporate training opportunities, reading professional development material and attending live online meetings are other tools Murray said she can use to build up her executive development plan. SES candidates have up to 24 months to execute the plan and present it to OPM for certification of an SES position anywhere in the federal government.

While Murray is willing to go wherever the SES assignment is if she is certified, her preference will always be close to home on the Space Coast of Florida where NASA and the Air Force are creating the spaceport of the future for commercial launch providers.

"For the first time in 60 years, things will soon be done differently on the range," said Murray who is primarily assigned with the task of developing the Air Force's Eastern Range concept of operations for commercially owned operations on KSC. "People adapt and accept changes differently. My goal is to get folks to understand and accept new ways of business."

The SES candidate will lean on her 23 year-long engineering career, plus her recent experience of ensuring the optimum utilization of NASA's workforce while she was serving as the deputy director of KSC's Human Resources Office from 2013 to 2015, before she ventured into the SES CDP.

As one of the local leaders blazing the trail of commercial spaceflight, Murray will help create an interface between three government agencies to help meet the needs of commercial space customers such as SpaceX who launch out of Pad 39A at KSC.

"We all have the same end goal and mission in common," said Murray about NASA, Air Force, Federal Aviation Administration and their commercial space customers. "We have to keep that in mind to do what is best for our country. As we continue to grow and become the spaceport of the future we'll deal with each other's unique situations and evolve from there."

The reward for the overcoming the challenging paradigm shift in America's space operations is being a significant part of the nation's future, she said.

"We are on the cusp of doing things differently, opening doors and increasing possibilities," said Murray. "We will be able to look back and say 'I was a part of that initial change.' The future is exciting."

Looking forward is how the SES candidate began her career in federal service by watching the leaders who went before her and she plans to continue that journey.

"I've always watched what was successful and listened to people who experienced it," she said. "I took bits and pieces from all leaders, good and bad. Through them I learned what to do and what not to do. I'm very thankful to the 45th SW senior leaders for giving me the opportunity to be a member of their senior leadership team and a 45 SW Shark!"

Her work ethic started when she followed her father's footsteps into her family's two generation span of KSC history and it will continue as she familiarizes herself with the Air Force as a step up in rising to the highest ranks of federal service.