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HRDG 4511 - Section B - Position Descriptions

Subchapter 4511
Position Classification
Section B - Position Descriptions


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Introduction

A position description (PD) is the official record describing management's assignment of duties, responsibilities, and supervisory relationships to a position.

It is important to keep PDs accurate and up-to-date as they are the legal basis for:

  • Appointment of employees.
  • Payment of salary or wages.
  • Establishment of job qualifications and selection criteria to fill a position.
  • Development of performance plans and objectives.
  • Preparation of Individual Development Plans.
  • Review and evaluation of employees’ work.
  • The determination of the rights and responsibilities of employees.

PDs are essential for effective staffing, organizational planning/reorganizations, budgeting, position management, and employee utilization:

  • They help reveal overlapping responsibilities between employees.
  • They inform applicants/appointees about duties, responsibilities, qualifications, and working conditions.
  • Serve as the official record of assigned duties and responsibilities in classification appeal cases.
  • Establish competitive levels for reduction-in-force.
When a Position Description is Needed

All positions in the Federal Government require a PD, with the following exceptions of:

  • Collaborators (however a statement of duties is required).
  • Experts and consultants not appointed under Title 5 authority (e.g., hired as contractors).
  • Volunteers.
  • Private sector temporaries.
  • Details to unclassified duties.

A PD must be classified and approved before the position can be filled. However, employees may be detailed to a position without a PD, and will be officially assigned to the position when the duties have been described and classified.

Position Description Responsibility
Supervisors have the primary role in writing the PD, since they assign the work and know the expectations of the position. The servicing classification specialist is available to offer advice and assistance. For filled positions, incumbent employees are a valuable resource since they understand the duties of positions and are actually performing the work.
Position Description Content

When writing a PD, focus should be on the major duties and not everything an employee does. Describe duties using action verbs with an object. Details that need constant revision can be omitted, e.g., step-by-step instructions or number of offices serviced.

A PD should contain an introduction, a major duties section, and supplementary information. For General Schedule (GS) positions, it is recommended that supplementary information in PDs be documented in the nine Factor Evaluation System (FES) factors, since the majority of OPM classification standards are written using the FES format. The table below describes the information needed for nonsupervisory PDs.

NONSUPERVISORY POSITION DESCRIPTION CONTENT
PD SECTION DESCRIPTION
Introduction Summarize the primary purpose for the position and where it resides in the organization. Write a short organizational mission statement and the position’s relationship in fulfilling it.
Major Duties Major duties assigned that occupy the employee’s time on a regular and recurring basis. Also include job qualifications needed when recruiting; required certification or licensure (e.g., drug testing or a commercial driver’s license); and nature and extent of responsibility for carrying out assigned duties. If a position contains substantially different kinds of work (mixed position), identify an approximate percentage of time required for each major duty. Note: Ensure that duties to be evaluated in the employee’s performance plan are included.
Factor 1 – Knowledge Required Type of knowledge or skills needed; qualification requirements.
Factor 2 – Supervisory Controls How the work is assigned; level of independence; guidance and instructions; problems referred to supervisor; purpose and extent of review; types of actions not subject to supervisory review.
Factor 3 – Guidelines Nature of guidelines (e.g., manuals, policies, procedures) available to assist in performing the work.
Factor 4 – Complexity Nature of the assignment; difficulty in identifying what needs to be done; difficulty encountered and originality required in performing the work.
Factor 5 – Scope Purpose of the work; impact of the work product or service (i.e., who or what benefits from the work).
Factor 6 – Personal Contacts People contacted in the course of the work and the conditions/setting under which those contacts are made.
Factor 7 – Purpose of Contacts Reason for maintaining the personal contacts noted in Factor 6.
Factor 8 – Physical Demands Nature, frequency, and intensity of physical activity.
Factor 9 – Work Environment Risks and discomforts caused by physical surroundings and the safety precautions needed to avoid accidents or discomfort.
For a supervisory position, the description should identify the information necessary to evaluate the position using the appropriate supervisory standard (e.g., the six factors of the General Schedule Supervisory Guide).

The description of a supervisory position need not include a detailed discussion of the work performed by subordinate employees, but there should be consistency between the supervisors’ and their subordinates' position descriptions concerning supervision given and received. The PD should include first and second-level supervisory responsibilities. The table below describes the information needed for supervisory PDs.
SUPERVISORY POSITION DESCRIPTION CONTENT
PD SECTION DESCRIPTION
Introduction Summarize the primary purpose for the position and where it resides in the organization. Write a short organizational mission statement and the position’s relationship in fulfilling it.
Major Duties Major duties assigned that occupy the employee’s time on a regular and recurring basis. Also include job qualifications needed when recruiting; required certification or licensure (e.g., drug testing or a commercial driver’s license); and nature and extent of responsibility for carrying out assigned duties. If a position contains substantially different kinds of work (mixed position), identify an approximate percentage of time required for each major duty. Note: Ensure that duties to be evaluated in the employee’s performance plan are included.
Factor 1 – Program Scope and Effect Scope: List program areas, projects and assignments directed, including those accomplished through subordinate employees. Describe work directed, products produced, or services delivered; include geographic and organizational coverage of the program.

Effect: Address impact of work described in “Scope” on the mission and programs of customers, activities in or outside government, the agency, other agencies, or the general public.

Factor 2 – Organizational Setting Describe the organizational setting in which the position operates in relation to higher levels of management, and who the position reports to.
Factor 3 – Supervisory and Managerial Authority Exercised Describe the delegated supervisory and managerial authorities and responsibilities that are exercised on a recurring basis.
Factor 4 – Personal Contacts Nature of Contacts: Describe organizational relationships, authority or influence level, setting, and difficulty of preparation associated with making personal contacts. Level of contact must contribute to the successful performance of the work, be a recurring requirement, impact the difficulty and responsibility of the position, and require direct contact.

Purpose of Contacts: Describe advisory, representational, negotiating, and commitment making responsibilities related to supervision.

Factor 5 – Difficulty of Typical Work Directed Describe the direct reports that the supervisor has technical oversight over, including grade level, difficulty, or complexity of the work. Include line, staff, or contracted work that the position supervises directly, or through subordinate supervisors, team leaders, or others. Do not include lower level positions that support basic work of the unit, or positions that have extraordinary independence from supervision.
Factor 6 – Other Conditions Describe any significant conditions that contribute to the difficulty and complexity of carrying out supervisory duties, authorities, and responsibilities for the work overseen.

Managers are encouraged to contact their Servicing Classification Specialist to discuss their needs and options before they begin writing a new PD. There is often a PD template that exists to help expedite the process.

What to Exclude from Position Descriptions

Supervisors should ensure the following information is not included in PDs:

  • Specific training that will be assigned.
  • Qualitative or quantitative performance measures.

Individual development plans (IDPs) and performance plans are used for training and performance management. The information in these plans should not be included in PDs. PDs are filed in the employee’s electronic official personnel file (eOPF). IDPs and performance plans have their own filing requirements and are maintained separately for various reasons.

A position is classified, not the employee occupying the position. Classification actions should never measure or reward performance. A position description describes what an employee is asked to do, and does not measure how well the employee does it.

Position Description Edits
A new PD must be drafted and evaluated whenever a significant change takes place in the major duties of a position, if the duties are performed on a regular and recurring basis. Any change in the position that will affect the title, series, or grade requires a new PD.

Minor changes in a PD that do not affect the title, series, or grade can be accommodated by minor edits to the existing PD. If the changes involve several paragraphs, the modifications may be typed on a separate page and attached as an amendment.

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