TITLE: Contract Specialist
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Army Contracting Command – Rock Island
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 6.5
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in contracting; Level I in information technology and in property
EDUCATION: MBA and Master of Organizational Leadership, St. Ambrose University; BBA in marketing, management and philosophy, St. Ambrose University.
by Susan L. Follett
Amy Larson has done a lot of leader-ish things for someone whose position doesn’t officially require it. She mentors junior staff, put together a group to support new hires, partnered with a co-worker to turn around a struggling program at her command, and has become the go-to person for just about any issue thanks to an extensive cross-organizational contact list she has developed. She has also availed herself of several leader development programs offered by DOD and the Army Director, Acquisition Career Management (DACM) Office, including the Defense Civilian Emerging Leader Program (DCELP), the Acquisition Leadership Challenge Program, the Inspiring and Developing Excellence in Acquisition Leaders Program and the Executive Leadership Development Program.
“Because I am not a positional leader, I have to always be looking for opportunities to use my skills,” said Larson, a contract specialist for the Army Contracting Command – Rock Island (ACC-RI), Illinois. “I spread myself a little thin, and it’s a challenge to juggle a lot of things at once, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
She has been with ACC-RI for nearly seven years, and came to acquisition after a career in academia. “I wanted to work in the public sector, and chose contracting for the legal and regulatory aspects and the challenge of the detailed work,” she said. As a contract specialist, she negotiates cost, price and schedule for explosives and ammunition. “My biggest satisfaction is knowing that the government has provided the tools to support my mission and positively affect others around me despite the fact that I am not yet in a leadership role,” she said.
A desire to learn more about government leadership and to overcome the challenge of “starting a government career late in life” motivated Larson to seek out developmental training opportunities. “I have always had an intrinsic desire to be great at my job, and I found this was one of many options for me to act on that. The civilian contracting career model developed by the DACM Office served as a guide in professional development, and helped me identify next steps.”
For her, the most impactful course was DCELP. That course “was all about meeting people in the middle—adapting to them,” she said. “Because everyone is different, you need to have the ability to fluidly use different styles of conflict management, learning, leadership, etc., depending on the people you’re dealing with. Be cognizant that your way is not the best or only way, and keep in mind that being able to adapt your style is going to get you further than having your feet planted.”
The course’s setting, at a conference center in Southbridge, Massachusetts, is an important part of its success, Larson said. Lodging, dining and classroom facilities were all in one spot. “It was inevitable that we would get to know the other students extremely well. Also, no one was from that area, and therefore we couldn’t go home or to an office after classroom sessions, which provided a lot of valuable networking opportunities.” The DCELP curriculum includes team-building activities, high-energy lectures and student-led discussions—“the trifecta of learning,” said Larson—which also added to the program’s impact. “I have always been extremely comfortable networking and reaching out to people from my DCELP cohort when I have a question and need a new perspective outside my command. It has been more than three years since graduation, and we still are in touch as a group.”
Larson has gained a great deal from the courses she has taken. “The networking has proven to be invaluable,” she said. “I frequently reach out to colleagues I have met in these trainings when I’ve exhausted all other options, and other participants reach out to me. I have met people in all agencies that have helped in year-end time crunches, mainly Defense Finance and Accounting Services, and I have connections in all areas so when I have a question, I have a friend a phone call away. And, because I save all my material both electronically and in hard copy, I have a massive amount of resources at my disposal that I refer back to and share with others.”
Among those resources is a notebook that she brings to every training program. It includes important terms, reading recommendations from instructors and colleagues, and inspirational quotes. “This notebook is pretty amazing, and I refer back to it more than I ever thought I would. And each time I refer back to it, I can almost hear the conversation I pulled the information from.”
To make sure the learning sticks beyond the classroom, Larson selects one idea or skill—influencing, conflict resolution or crucial conversations, for example—and works on it over several weeks. “Whatever I’m working on, I put a reminder in my Outlook calendar as a reminder, and I practice it until it is habit,” she said. “If I feel like I may fall short, I can ask my team lead or branch chief to observe my progress to see if they note an improvement.”
As a result of what she has learned, her leadership “has strategically placed me in difficult situations, on demanding teams and arduous projects, and on challenging integrated product teams,” she said. “I have been able to take a neglected program and redesign it into a very successful part of our command. I have helped rewrite policy; influenced others to buy in; and made the program recognizable by becoming relatable, collaborating, creating a champion, and facilitating continuous change.”
That program is her command’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program. “My senior executive put out a posting for a program manager-type assignment, and I jumped on it. The personnel assigned to it previously were Soldiers who were volun-told they’d be working on it. The command decided to take a different approach, and see if anyone would want to do it,” Larson explained. She and a colleague, Rebecca Jessen, volunteered. “We are lucky enough to be completely different in skill sets but likeminded in accomplishing the mission, and we’ve taken the program to something quite amazing.”
The pair determined that the program’s difficulties stemmed from the fact that the program lacked the passion and the sincerity for its care of the command and its people. “That was an easy fix, although it took time. We demonstrated that we genuinely cared: When we trained, we shared personal stories—we didn’t just read the Army training slides. We had awareness days with swag items and baked goods that we bought or made ourselves—one person was inspired to hand-make more than 500 teal ribbons, one for each person on our command. As a result, we now have 550 people in our organization as passionate about the issue as we are.”
“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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