Kay C. Goss

Union Institute & University’s historical commitment to ethical and creative leadership and the insights gained over the past 50 years as a leader in adult learning is the inspiration for the monthly series, Union Leaders.

This month Kay C. Goss is featured. Ms. Goss is a member of Union’s Board of Trustees, an expert on emergency management, and a guest lecturer at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

Q. How do you define leadership?

A. Leadership is winning the trust of those around one, often in a professional work environment, and even in a more generic environment. Leadership is also winning the trust of those around you in such a way that they value your advice and respect your actions so much that they are inclined to follow and to fashion their actions in accordance.

Q. What leader do you admire the most and why?

A. I have had four mentors in the leadership area and I don’t rank one above the others. First, my father, Kirby Collett, was always leading in any setting and taking me with him to his business meetings. He served as chair of the local school board, Sunday school superintendent, election judge, and chair of the County Conservation and Natural Resources District. Second, my academic mentor, Dr. Henry M. Alexander, was chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Arkansas, and the state’s leading expert on Arkansas state and local government. He taught me how to head an academic department and how to succeed him as the state’s leading expert in government. My political mentor was Wilbur D. Mills, U.S. House of Representatives and long-time chair of the Committee on Ways and Means, who taught me how to serve constituents through casework and how to fashion and successfully manage the passage of legislation. He also taught me how crucial it is to know more than anyone else in the room about whatever you are trying to accomplish, as well as the importance of each individual person. My fourth mentor was Governor and President William Jefferson Clinton, who gave me the invaluable opportunity to bring all those skills to bear on a local, tribal, state, national, and international basis. He named me as the first woman to serve as Senior Assistant to the Governor for Intergovernmental Relations and as the first woman to serve as Associate FEMA Director in charge of National Preparedness, Training, and Exercises, a presidential appointment with U.S.

Senate confirmation. He showed me the best possible work habits, inspiring me to become a workaholic, with the grand opportunities he offered, always so positive and limited only by my stamina, which grew tremendously over the glorious close-to-20 years I worked for and with him.

Q. Share an example of how you’ve put leadership in action.

A. Early in my tenure at FEMA, I was getting a briefing from my director of the FEMA Training Division, a most senior career official and long-time FEMA employee. I asked how many state and local officials we were able to train each year. He said, “5,000.” I asked, “Exactly, 5,000?” He responded affirmatively. I asked, “We must be turning some people down,” and nodded his head up and down. Naturally, I asked how many, and he said another 5,000. After all those years, working at the state and local level, I was quite concerned and said, “We have to find a way to train those other 5,000 people.” He smiled. I said, “Do you have any ideas? He said, “Well, we could try working with some academic institutions.” I said, “OK, that sounds great. I am very comfortable in their environment and it was my initial chosen profession and I can help with that.” He was ecstatic and we went to work, appointing the only person we knew who was a long-time FEMA official with a Ph.D. to manage what we named The FEMA Higher Education Program. We set a goal of one per state by 2001, when the tenure of our administration would end. So, it is now 23 years later, and these degree programs in emergency management have come onboard at the rate of one or two per month. There are now more than 300 degree and certificate programs in emergency management and another 100 are in some stage of development. I am guessing no other academic area has grown as rapidly. Every year, during the first week in June, I am at the FEMA Higher Education Symposium, including professors, deans, students, and practitioners, that come together on the FEMA campus for a week of sharing, with as many as 400 people from seven or eight countries.

Q. When did you first feel that you were a leader? What was the experience?

A. During my senior year in high school, I finally realized that I was a student leader, both academically and in extracurricular activities as well, including cheering my school teams and working in my church activities, making presentations, singing in a trio.

Q. What is your favorite inspiring leadership quote?

A. Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. – Sam Walton

About Kay C. Goss

Ms. Goss has been a member of Union Institute & University’s Board of Trustees since 2012 and serves on the Administration/Finance Committee.
She is an internationally recognized expert, lecturer, and author on Emergency Management and General Resiliency. She is the senior principal and senior advisor for Emergency Management and Continuity Programs for SRA International in Arlington, Virginia, where she is responsible for leading the development and enhancing the quality of emergency management services to government, nonprofit, and private sector clients.

Ms. Goss is a lecturer for the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in the subject area of the protection of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

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