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The Leadership Development Program in the Buffalo District

Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District
Published March 19, 2020
A group work on a project

Members of the Army Corps of Engineers' Leadership Development Program II work on a group project as part of a team building exercise for the program. LDP II focuses on a Regional approach to leadership by offering participants the chance to interact and work with other Great Lakes’ District employees. Members of the Army Corps of Engineers' Leadership Development Program II work on a group project as part of a team building exercise for the program.

LDP I participants walk on a lock

Participants of the Army Corps of Engineers' Leadership Development Program I tour the Black Rock Lock, located at Buffalo District's reservation, as part of a team building activity for the program. The goal of the program is to develop results oriented, agile leaders with broad perspectives who lead people and lead change successfully in complex environments.

Leaders speak to a group of people

Leaders from the Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District, conduct a mentorship questions and answers panel as part the Corps' Leadership Development Program. The goal of the program is to develop results oriented, agile leaders with broad perspectives who lead people and lead change successfully in complex environments.

A member of LDP II on a ropes course

Members of the Army Corps of Engineers' Leadership Development Program II work on a group project as part of a team building exercise for the program. LDP II focuses on a Regional approach to leadership by offering participants the chance to interact and work with other Great Lakes’ District employees.

Developing future leaders through leadership opportunities in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District has always been a top priority and is strongly encouraged for all newer employees as well as senior leaders. 

The Leadership Development Program (LDP) was created to ensure all Buffalo District employees have the chance to develop and refine strong leadership skills. The goal of the program is to develop results oriented, agile leaders with broad perspectives who lead people and lead change successfully in complex environments. 

This program has been offered in the Buffalo District since the mid 2000’s and has been adapted to ensure best practices were being shared.  Leaders having completed the program are better postured to adapt to the changing environment that we are working in, and deliver engineering solutions for the Nation’s toughest challenges.   

There are five levels of LDP that employees can participate in LDP I, LDP II and LDP III, which are offered on a District and Division level, and LDP IV an LDP V, which are HQ’s levels. Overall, each program is unique but all of the levels can offer rewarding experiences both personally and professionally.

At the Buffalo District, new employees, usually within the first few years of their position, will participate in the LDP I program.  This program was revamped a few years ago to focus on cultivating leadership skills from the ground up.

LDP I improves specific leadership skills such as, oral and written communication, team building, adaptability and self-evaluation.  In addition, LDP I participants have the opportunity to learn more about their strengths and weaknesses through a self-assessment tool (which is revisited in LDP II), such as the Clifton Strengthfinder’s tool. 

The LDP I program is an ideal program for new employees because they get to meet many new people in the District, and based on feedback from LDP I graduates, help to significantly prepare them for the next LDP levels and to serve as future leaders.

“I like LDP because it allows me to understand my colleagues much better.  We have people at the Corps from all walks of life and work experience levels, from new grads to seasoned pros.  New people bring new ideas and established professionals are able to successfully integrate these new ideas into a system that has been tested, tried, and refined over the years.” said Eric Mucha, USACE Buffalo District Program Manager and current LDP I participant. 

LDP I is considered not only to be a stand-alone course in leadership, but one that can be considered a preparatory class where skills developed/addressed at the district level would be further refined at a regional level should participants enroll in LDP II.

The next level, LDP II is a Regional Program where participants from the Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit districts come together in an effort to enhance the leadership experience for individuals, share resources and integrate future leaders from the three Great Lakes Districts.  

LDP II focuses on a Regional approach to leadership by offering participants the chance to interact and work with other Great Lakes’ District employees.

A big component of the program is to increase skills in team work.  The first session is a team building exercise where participants engage in team activities, such as, volunteering to lead teams, solving intricate hands-on tasks, and team mountaineering.

Also, the program allows the participants to visit the other Districts to learn more about and compare how the individual district’s missions and how they operate.

In addition to a Group project, which focuses on an existing process, sometimes a regional process that needs improving, participants work on their own individual Make a Difference project for their specific District.  

“The Make a Difference project in LDP II was very rewarding,” said Emily Shoftstall, an LDP II graduate and environmental engineer with the Buffalo District.   “I came up with a Quality of Life program and worked with a multi-faceted team at the District to come up with ideas for improvements at the District.”

“This Quality of Life program was able to initiate the Loaner Umbrella Program, a Nursing Mothers’ room, and EZ passes on the district’s government vehicles, said Shoftstall.  “All of these may seem minor but have become huge conveniences that have lasted.  It was a great thing to help out the place we live in” she said.  

LDP II offers participants great way to learn how to work in a team environment and overall, the program offers many long-lasting leadership tools.

“One of the things I learned about myself I was ability to adapt,” said Ashley Pomaski, an LDP II graduate and an environmental engineer with the Buffalo District. “At first, I wasn’t sure of how things were going with my other LDP team member. I wasn’t getting along with that person.  I then realized some things that I could do to adjust in interacting with the team member and it really helped us work together. I actually became good friends with her and I am still close with her today.  This experience has also helped me to better adapt to different work environments in my job.”

LDP III is the highest level of LDP offered at the Division level.  It is geared towards senior level employees and employees who have had previous leadership experience either through the LDP II program or comparable training/experiences.  LDP III is 11 months long and each month participants travel to all of the Districts in the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. The main purpose of the program is to broaden regional perspectives, understand regional processes and most importantly develop and expand collaborative relationships.

LDP III gives students the opportunity to participate in regional meetings, engage in mentoring relationships with senior leaders and become better informed of the different programs and challenges in each of the seven districts within the Division.

Dave Frothingham, Chief of the Environmental Branch at the Buffalo District and a LDP III graduate had this to offer.

“One of the most rewarding experiences from LDP III is the connections you make with people across the Division. You travel to different Districts and meet with the LDP III group in these intense bursts of time throughout the year long program.  You become quite close and develop relationships, both professionally and personally with people in other Districts.  Those relationships have lasted me all the years since.  These connections are important, because you are able to support people from other Districts and get that lasting support in other Districts even after graduation.”

“In addition, 2 years after graduation, we spent a week in DC “Washington Week” and spent time at USACE HQ and on Capitol Hill interacting and getting instruction on how government works from staffers and former Congressional members.  You learn the budgeting process and how money is appropriated and authorized before it gets to the Corps of Engineers.  That week was a highlight because you learned so many things and it was also a reunion!”

Employees should strongly consider the LDP series to increase their skills in leadership and teamwork.   Developing strong leaders now, will ensure strong projects for the future.