TITLE: Contracting officer/team lead
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Joint Test and Evaluation Program, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 14
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in contracting
EDUCATION: M.A. and B.A. in theology, Rich Word Theological Institute; MBA in human resource administration, Central Michigan University; B.A. in psychology, Northwestern State University
By Susan L. Follett
As the wife of a Vietnam veteran, Nancy Sykes knows what it’s like to wait for family members to return from deployment. Hoping to ease some of that concern for others, she left a 19-year career in Army logistics in 2005 and found her niche in contracting.
“My first acquisition position was with the 90th Regional Readiness Command at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas,” Sykes said. “I was trained by co-workers who explained to me the importance of the work that we were doing and how it could impact a Soldier. I knew then that this was the place for me, and I wanted to get it right or as close to right as I could the first time around.”
Sykes is a contracting officer and team lead for the Joint Test and Evaluation Program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center, processing and actions that will allow servicemen and women to return home safely. “When I see a warfighter returning from a temporary duty assignment and greeting their family members, there is a feeling of connection because my team and I helped in their return,” she said. “My greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army Acquisition Workforce is knowing that the long hours and the sacrifices were worth it all.”
With 14 years in acquisition and 33 total as an Army civilian, Sykes is still learning new things. “I look at each assignment as a way to gain additional knowledge of what is expected of me. One of my goals is to ensure that the communication lines remain open between my team, the customers and the contractors so that I can be certain that my team and I are meeting the customers’ needs at all times. If there are any indications that we are not, I take the necessary steps to find out what the issue is and get it resolved as quickly as possible.”
Sykes has had the opportunity to complete several leadership development programs, including two sessions of the Acquisition Leadership Challenge Program and the Inspiring and Developing Excellence in Acquisition Leaders (IDEAL) program. “All three programs allowed me the opportunity to see beyond what is happening today and get a glimpse of what the future holds,” Sykes said. “These programs have helped me understand that even at your best, there is still room for improvement. Projects and agencies are changing and becoming more innovative, and if we wish to continue to stay gainfully employed, we will have to sharpen our skillsets.”
All three programs were very educational, she noted, but IDEAL was the most impactful. “The course challenged me to surround myself with like-minded individuals who are looking to advance in their career and not listen to the naysaying information; search for understanding and clarity; be honest with what is being revealed; know when to press forward or step back; and take a different perspective of the things going on around me.”
Sykes completed IDEAL in late 2019, and is putting into practice much of what she learned. “First and foremost, I learned that understanding who I am as a person is imperative. The key to understanding others is to know yourself. Second, I had the opportunity to meet people right where they are without being judgmental—greeting everyone with an open mind and knowing that our thinking process will not be exactly the same. Finally, I learned that when dealing with subordinates, I should keep the communication lines open and be honest about what is being said. If managers stick to the facts and keep a doorway open for compassion, relationships with subordinates grow stronger.”
A lot of what Sykes learned through DOD leadership programs is mirrored in the bachelor’s and master’s degrees she holds in theology. “My theology experience allows me to step back and constantly look at myself and to realize that we are all different, yet we bring wealth to the table,” she said. “Every person shines a light on something within the program—sometimes it takes a little work to find that light, but I know it’s there. I meet others where they are and I do not try to make them into what I want them to become, and I do my best to facilitate their growth so they can bloom where they are planted. It’s not always easy and it often takes a little time, but we all deserve that chance to contribute to helping others.”
Now in the fourth decade of her Army career, Sykes noted that one of the biggest changes she has seen is the way management relates to subordinates. “Early in my career, I saw that management generally tried to mold people into what they thought they wanted them to be as opposed to letting them be who they really are. As I progressed through my career as a leader, I’ve seen a growing emphasis on meeting individuals where they are and I try to incorporate that too: to try to keep an open line of communication as to what someone is saying or trying to do that will benefit my team as well as the organization,” she said. “Over the years, through growth and experience, I have learned that every question does not necessarily require the same response. A good leader tailors their management style to the employee and situation at hand.”
She added, “I’m so thankful to the leadership at my organization, and for all the opportunities I’ve had in my career. It has been a great journey and I’ve met so many people—I’m not ready to go home just yet.”
“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.
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