Former Science Committee Chief of Staff Chuck Atkins offers advice for success
By Eddy Hoyle
Chuck Atkins is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, having served in the U.S. Marine Corps. His service to our country continued throughout his career. Atkins retired in 2010 as the Chief of Staff/Director of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, where he led a staff of scientists, engineers and attorneys in carrying out investigations, oversight and the legislative agenda for federal civilian research and development programs under the jurisdiction of NASA, DOE, EPA, FAA, FEMA, NOAA, and others. Prior to this committee appointment, he served as Chief of Staff for members of Congress and was elected President of the House Chiefs’ of Staff Association and a Stennis Center for Public Service Congressional Staff Fellow.
He was also a founding partner in a consulting firm (Atkins-Elrod & Associates) that specialized in management, administration and finance for development projects, particularly the re-development of historic properties. He also served as an adjunct professor of political science and public policy at Northern Kentucky University and Thomas More College and was appointed by the governor to the Kentucky State Board of Education.
Atkins hails from Atlanta, graduated from Georgia State University and earned a Master’s degree from Ohio State University. He and his wife, Merry, enjoy the slow, relaxed life of the Lowcountry, especially the water, playing golf and biking. Atkins is past president of the board at Berkeley Hall. He is the current president and a founding board member of Vantage Point Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to guide and support military veterans in South Carolina who have experienced wartime trauma to reintegrate into their communities. Here are his tips for success:
Keys to Success
1. Pay attention to your peripheral vision. Too often in our careers, we look ahead toward our goal, but perhaps to the extreme, explained Atkins. “If we are too focused in a single direction, we can lose sight of things outside of that narrow focus that could take us in a different direction,” he said. “We can stay on our path, but other opportunities outside of our comfort zone, and outside of our initial goals, might present real opportunities and new challenges.”
2. Life comes at you fast. “Be open to seize opportunities in both business and in life,” Atkins explained. “Life comes at you fast, and sometimes quick decisions must be made. It’s like a fastball coming at you. You have to decide if you’re going to swing almost as soon as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.” He added that blind alleys can happen, circumstances can change, but opportunities to go and see the world have their own rewards.
3. An elementary, simple philosophy. “Get good people who fit the nature of the organization and the mission,” Atkins said. “Everyone I hired had to be smarter than me. Make sure they understand the direction and buy into the mission. Nobody comes to work to fail, but don’t be afraid to make corrections along the way if they are counter-productive or contrary to your agenda. They must be smart, but they must also fit in the team.”
4. Trust your gut. “Listen to your intuition and internal judgment,” Atkins said. “Be objective, but also trust your judgment — it has value. Trust your gut sometimes to avoid mistakes, especially when hiring.”
5. Create synergy. “Collaboration, when managed properly, has a powerful synergy, depending on the organization,” Atkins said. “Moderate your strong personality so you don’t marginalize yourself in such a way that people stop listening. Self-reflection is a good thing for leaders. And don’t take yourself too seriously.”