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Early Career Professionals Corner: To Participate or Not to Participate? The Benefits of Leadership Training Programs for ECPs

Kathryn M. Jones, PhD
Kathryn M. Jones, PhD

Kathryn M. Jones, PhD
Cleveland Clinic Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health

As Early Career Psychologists (ECPs), we face many new challenges as we embark on our professional lives. Building a practice, making connections with other professionals, and figuring out what work-life balance looks like outside of the confines of graduate school and training require special attention during this phase of our careers. With all these pressures on our time, it can be easy to relegate pursuing leadership opportunities into the future when we feel more settled into our careers and more established within the field. In actuality, seasoned psychologists advise that early career is a great time to build leadership skills and start on the path to leadership within professional societies, your workplace organization, and your community (Stringer, 2017). Despite this advice, it can be daunting to put one’s self out there for leadership opportunities as a freshly minted psychologist. By participating in a leadership training program, you can find support and mentorship as you foster effective leadership skills and pathways towards greater involvement within the field of psychology.

Based on a recommendation from my post-doctoral fellowship supervisor, I applied for and was accepted to the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) through the Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA; PPA, 2018). Based on the Leadership Academy through the Society for Counseling Psychology (Society for Counseling Psychology, Division 17, 2018), the ELP provided a theoretical understanding of leadership styles, the opportunity to work one-on-one with a mentor on a project benefiting PPA members, networking with PPA board members, and encouragement to participate in PPA committees that are aligned with my interests. My participation in this program has helped build my confidence and competence as I explore leadership opportunities in professional societies and my workplace.

One benefit of leadership training programs is that they provide a space to critically examine your leadership style and identify areas of growth, and then, support you in that growth. In leadership training, we were encouraged to engage in self-reflection and examination regarding our leadership styles. Although I did some of this work during my graduate training, approaching it as an ECP provided a different perspective regarding the impact of my leadership style on my involvement as a team member. My self-examination allowed me to build a leadership style based in collaboration and teamwork that I felt comfortable applying and flexibly fitting to the needs of the different situations I face every day. Finding a leadership style that you feel comfortable using, is effective and efficient, and inspires people to work with you is important to professional development. Through honest reflection on your own strengths and areas for growth as a leader as facilitated through a leadership training program, you can strive for continued development of your competence as a leader.

Mentorship plays an important role throughout our years as trainees. As ECPs, mentorship continues to play an important role in our professional development and connections with mentors are encouraged by other professionals (Stringer, 2017). At times, it can be difficult to identify people who can serve as mentors. Participation in a leadership training program can formally connect you with a mentor and allow you to build informal connections through networking. As part of the ELP, I was assigned a mentor who worked with me on the development of an action project, helped connect me to opportunities aligned with my interest, and introduced me to other psychologists with similar interests at a convention. Although, of course, it is possible to build mentoring relationships outside of formal training programs, programs such as ELP can help connect you with seasoned professionals who are specifically interested in building up the next generation of leaders in psychology.

When it comes to getting involved with leadership opportunities professionally, it can be difficult to know where to start. Alternatively, you may be held back from introducing yourself to others at conventions or reaching out to committees by anxiety about your readiness for involvement. Participation in a leadership training program may serve to demystify the organizational structure and provide opportunities to meet influential members, including organizational staff, board members, committee heads, and others. My experience with ELP provided me all of these opportunities, including connecting me with a committee whose work is relevant to my interests and passions which has led to an invitation collaborate on a presentation at next year’s convention. By getting involved now, I am able to do work that I am passionate about, network, and discover future opportunities. Participation in leadership training programs through professional societies or workplace organizations can help you build the foundational skills and connections that will help you succeed in future leadership opportunities.

Joining the Emerging Leaders Program was valuable for my professional development. In addition to refining my leadership style, connecting with mentors and other professionals, and becoming more involved with PPA, I was offered the opportunity to write this column after our Emerging Leader projects were introduced at the annual convention. To find similar opportunities for yourself, search the websites of local, state, and national professional societies for leadership training programs or other similar content for ECPs. Additionally, you may have access to similar programs through your workplace or other community organizations. Training supports you as you take an active role in developing your confidence and competence as a leader. Rather than waiting until you are feel ready to lead, why not take the steps that can help you build competence to lead today?


Pennsylvania Psychological Association (2018). Emerging Leaders Program. Retrieved from

Society for Counseling Psychology, Division 17 (2018) SCP Leadership Academy. Retrieved from

Stringer, H. (2017). Take Charge! Monitor on Psychology, 48, 62.