New leadership at the GSA: A conversation with Dan Tangherlini

Dan Tangherlini is the administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal government's acquisition and real estate management agency. He previously served as the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for management, chief financial officer and chief performance officer. Tangherlini spoke about federal management challenges with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

You were brought in to run the GSA after the controversy regarding lavish spending at employee conferences. How did you gain the organization's trust?

One of the ways you build trust is by demonstrating to people that you trust, respect and admire them. We had town hall conversations, both in person and virtual, with our regions. We had top-to-bottom review discussions with every program.

We also did something called the Great Ideas Hunt. We invited all members of the GSA family, regardless of rank or position, to share their ideas on how GSA can be the best organization it can be. We got over 600 ideas and more than 2,000 comments. Five hundred -plus ideas have been implemented, considered, discussed, thought about and continue to be worked on at a personal or organizational level. We saved over $5 million with the first round. We have now followed up a year later with a Great Ideas Hunt Round 2. It's been a fantastic dialogue.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am a person who tries to create an environment and a forum in which great ideas can be surfaced from all levels. Make it participatory, make it inclusionary and try to reduce the barriers imposed by hierarchy. In a federal environment, we have to do it together. Nothing happens alone. To the extent that I can put my finger on a management style, it really is around trying to make the whole greater than the parts.