HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Chief of the Medical Facilities Mandatory Center of Expertise at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, has completed a prestigious professional development program for senior federal employees at Harvard University.
Tony Travia, the senior healthcare engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was the only USACE employee selected to attend the 2022 John F. Kennedy School of Government Senior Executive Fellows program.
The four-week program, led annually by a renowned team of Harvard faculty and expert practitioners, provides attendees with a framework for problem-solving, conditioning them to view their work within the “larger picture” of the organization. Senior leaders develop the practical, effective skills to help them:
Identify and analyze the challenges and opportunities facing their organizations
Develop strategic plans of action using communication, negotiation and coalition-building skills
Manage the tensions between long-term policy goals and short-term political pressures
Create an organizational environment that is responsive to change but also true to its purpose and tradition.
According to Travia, the program challenged him in every aspect of public leadership, from strategic planning and risk-based analysis to negotiation and high-level communication. In order to guide participants in developing skills that can be applied to their unique work environments, the course did not follow a linear program of instruction but, rather, included courses on a variety of topics and provided ample time for classwork, group work, and individual study.
Each participant entered the program with an individual, self-selected leadership challenge they wanted to address, Travia said.
“The program was like taking 57 independent lectures at the master’s degree level, and to really get the value out of this blast-of-firehose information, you had to know specifically what you wanted to get out of it,” he said. “Just learning the material was a lot of work, but synthesizing and applying it was a long process that took the entire time.”
Travia’s leadership challenge involved communicating with stakeholders, ensuring that key messages are being conveyed effectively for mission success. He said the lessons on the principles of negotiation were critical for addressing this challenge.
“Even if you’ve been doing it for years and have instinctively learned these things, there is so much more to the formal logic of negotiation, and now I’ve got a framework that I can apply rather than just going with instinct,” he said.
In order to broaden participants’ perspectives, instructors provided numerous relevant case studies on topics such as Ukraine, U.S. political discourse, public health and diversity.
“These case studies helped us to see how everything is connected -- climate change, the politics of fossil fuel, Russia’s position as a declining near peer compared to China’s position as a rising near peer – and they affect our projects directly in terms of the cost and price of materials, supply chain, our workforce,” he said. “It’s all related, and this kind of strategic thinking helps us be prepared for whatever comes our way.”
Travia is no stranger to problem solving and leading teams in times of crisis. He led the USACE healthcare engineering effort in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He and his team supported national and international efforts to deliver alternate care sites, expand vaccine production capacity and design federal vaccination centers.
Travia said he feels even more prepared to tackle new, unforeseen challenges after completing the program.
“I learned a lot that I can apply to my work, and I hope to continue using these skills to accomplish the mission, improve the organization and take care of people,” he said.