‘Mission First, People Always’: This EVP’s Leadership Approach Drives Impact and Engagement

Sponsored by Leidos

Vicki Schmanske

Image courtesy of Leidos.

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April 16, 2024 at 12:44AM UTC

Obstacles don’t intimidate Vicki Schmanske. With 35+ years of experience in systems engineering, program management, software development and IT service delivery for Intelligence, DoD, Civil and Health customers, she’s no stranger to driving speed, scope and scale while keeping a dispersed workforce connected and committed to customer missions — even during a global pandemic. In 2019, Vicki Schmanske was appointed President of Leidos’ newly created Intelligence Group. Under her leadership, the business unit — and company as a whole — opened new markets and experienced substantial growth. 

In July 2021, Schmanske was named EVP, Corporate Operations, a new opportunity that will see her helm operational performance and strategic functional initiatives, including: Performance Excellence, Strategic Planning, Procurement & Enterprise Partnerships, Communications and Marketing, Security and Corporate Real Estate.

For Schmanske, the move represents an opportunity to take on a new leadership position where she can continue to infuse Leidos culture with her well-known and oft lauded mantra, ‘Mission First, People Always.’ She credits much of the company’s success to its culture, which focuses on employees’ career and personal growth and intentional innovation. “People are at the heart of everything we do, and investing in them is critical to ensuring we can support our customers’ challenging missions,” she said.

Fairygodboss reached out to Schmanske to learn more about her work at Leidos and her methods for supporting employees and driving impactful change.

Vicki Schmanske’s career path as an unflappable, supportive leader.

Schmanske joined Leidos in 2016 with the Lockheed Martin IS&GS acquisition as the deputy president and chief operating officer of the Health Group and has subsequently held roles of Chief Administrative Officer and Group President Intelligence, before her most recent transition. While much of her impressive career has been spent in the intelligence field, she’s worked across various sectors and has never shied away from new challenges. 

“‘Mission First, People Always’ has been my mindset for many years, and I plan to continue that focus in my new role,” Schmanske said. “Across our customer set, their missions require innovation — to stay ahead of and thwart increasingly sophisticated adversaries and threats. The ability to safely, swiftly and successfully do that relies on our people. In each and every position I’ve had and held at Leidos, I have seen firsthand how well our powerhouse professionals understand missions and how our capabilities can bring speed, security and seamlessness to the programs we’re working across the enterprise.”

As a self-described “off-the-scale extrovert,” Schmanske is always looking for ways to help others via mentoring and employee resource groups, including partnering with the Leidos Women’s Network to launch the first Leidos Women’s Leadership Forum in 2019, which brought together more than 120 senior leaders to enhance opportunities for women at Leidos. She also serves as the executive sponsor of the Collaborative Outreach with Remote & Embedded Employees employee resource group and regularly engages women at all levels across the company as a mentor and coach. 

As to how she manages all this, Schmanske said she relies on her approachability, technical acumen, breadth of experience, authenticity and the ability to openly discuss things like parenthood, macroaggressions and life in the time of COVID-19 to genuinely connect. “I’m a proponent for growth and development, introducing mentees and others to my broader network and working with HR leaders to identify talent and support career advancement,” she said. “It’s important for us to find new and meaningful ways to help develop and highlight talent, opportunities and networks.” 

Schmanske is also dedicated to increasing diversity efforts and she’s not shy when it comes to championing these initiatives at Leidos, which is increasingly focused on building a culture of inclusion.

To this end, Schmanske serves as the co-chair for their Enterprise Inclusion Council, which helps leaders be more thoughtful in how they consider their mission, objectives and reputation, and she stays closely connected to employee-based groups and external organizations committed to positive, impactful change.

“My career trajectory, volunteer work, faith, family and passion for driving positive transformation all contribute to my leadership mindset,” she said. “Core to that mindset is creating and fostering — without fail — a collaborative environment where broader representation in leadership positions, particularly for women and diverse employees, is a fundamental pillar. I strive to be a proponent for Leidos’ ability to establish a thoughtful people-centric talent pipeline process to meet business needs and help cultivate an inclusive work environment.”

And Leidos supports her work. “Authenticity at Leidos is a key aspect of the culture,'' she said, “which means bringing your whole self to work every day. I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister, Catholic, coworker and a woman. All of these shape my life and who I am as a leader. “

Advice for job seekers considering joining Leidos.

So, what sort of culture should job seekers expect to find at Leidos? Well, according to Schmanske, a culture of growth, opportunities and innovation awaits.

"As an organization whose work makes the world safer, healthier and more efficient, Leidos is all about our people, and how we actively and authentically continue to build an inclusive, diverse workforce. We’re vocal advocates when it comes to finding new ways to create purposeful opportunities for employees, who bring incredible experiences and expertise to customers and programs. We also concentrate on redeployment efforts, helping employees find their next challenge within Leidos by building programmatic knowledge and further expanding learning and leadership opportunities.”

For her part, Schmanske often asks employees: “What can we do to advance your career or expand your skills and help you flourish?” Doing so helps her foster a culture of employee growth, and aids in building paths to leadership.

“People crave job stability and the opportunity for growth within a company, and that feedback has inspired the way I lead,” Schmanske elaborated. “Career mobility can be a powerful catalyst, not just for advancement but as a way to bolster belonging. As Leidos leaders get to know their teams, they can more effectively map career journeys and goals in ways that not only accelerate their personal growth but the company’s overall growth.”

Another key part of the Leidos experience is innovation, which Schmanske described as an “intentional undercurrent of everything we do, and it’s central to the Leidos mission of making the world safer, healthier and more efficient through technology, engineering and science.”

“Our focus on innovation, agility and continuous technology investments is the how and why behind our development and delivery of breakthrough solutions. When people are in an environment where they’re comfortable being creative and presenting new ideas, they thrive; they’re successful and so is the company. Inclusion is a core value for Leidos and something that’s non-negotiable for me. It is vital to innovation and collaboration, and it’s essential to Leidos’ ability to solve hard problems and find the best technical solutions.”

Vicki Schmanske’s best advice for advancing your career.

For those looking to advance their careers, Schmanske emphasizes the importance of fostering mentor/mentee relationships. “Early on in my career, a trusted advisor suggested seeking out many mentors versus only one. I continue to embrace that counsel,” she said. “Different leaders have different skills you can draw from and this relationship provides growth for both individuals, who ideally learn from and inspire each other.” 

As for people ready to step into leadership roles, Schmanske has advice for you, too. “I encourage you to find opportunities to lead,” she said. “At Leidos, that could be through leading an employee resource group, volunteerism and community efforts or stepping into a challenging new role. I see a myriad of opportunities for women looking to gain knowledge in a leadership role if they’re open to new challenges and responsibilities. Those positions that seem outside your comfort zone are the ones that could open doors to invaluable experience.”


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