Former DHS CPO discusses keys to good leadership

Soraya Correa, former chief procurement officer for the Department of Homeland Security joins host Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to discuss her long caree...

Soraya Correa, former chief procurement officer for the Department of Homeland Security, joined host Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends, to discuss her long career in the federal government.

Correa retired earlier this year after a 40 year career in public service and had been with DHS since its inception, serving in key leadership positions including head of Contracting Activity for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and associate director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Enterprise Services Directorate.

She was appointed as DHS Chief Procurement Officer in January 2015, and before that held leadership positions at the Naval Sea Systems Command, the General Services Administration, NASA, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service — now USCIS.

She began her career as a clerk typist and worked her way up to lead one of the largest procurement organizations supporting a cabinet level agency, by being able to adapt quickly to different situations. She describes her leadership style as being “what it needs to be at the time. In other words, I adapt to the environment, the situation and what’s needed from me by my team.”

According to Correa she learned a hard lesson early in her career when she realized that you can’t always say what you are thinking.

“I am very open, I am very direct, and I am very honest. I had to learn to manage that,” she said. “I remember, one time I worked with an individual who said, ‘Soraya you have to slow down a bit.’ I had a leader that actually said that to me, after a meeting. He said you can’t always say what you’re thinking in the meeting, you got to gauge the room. You got to learn to listen to people, and you need to understand other people’s perspectives.”

Correa said she that when she took her first leadership job, she decided to be the type of leader she wanted to work for: Always present and available, one who communicate both good and bad. Her accomplishments as a leader are well recognized by the government and industry communities, having received the Secretary’s Award for Excellence, Management Support Awards, Federal 100 recognition, Public Sector Partner of the Year, Top Women in Tech, and several other accolades. These reflect her commitment to the acquisition workforce, procurement innovation, and promoting meaningful communications with industry.

“In other words, I wanted to make sure that I was thinking of those things that were important to me as I came up through the ranks because I started as a GS-4 clerk typist,” she said. She changed positions mid-career, and then came back into the procurement profession. “So I’ve done a lot of different things. And I was always known to be creative, very direct. I was the person that took on the challenges, when there was a not so gracious project or the project that nobody else wanted to do, I might raise my hand and take it, because somebody’s got to do it right. And you can find success and a lot of the interesting challenges that are out there.”

Correa, who won a 2018 Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Service, also shared her advice for the next generation of leaders, saying they should do something that inspires and motivates them.

“I’ve spent 40 years doing what I love to do, and working with people that I just thought were incredible and phenomenal for agencies that I thought had great and exciting missions. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be afraid of the challenges,” she said. “Finally, this is our country. This is our government. We make it better by being a part of it. I encourage you to come work in our federal government be a part of the solution. I think you’ll enjoy it. I think you’ll find it invigorating and rewarding.”

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