Imagine yourself in this scenario:

You finally made it!  After much hard work, you are now licensed and you recently accepted a job as a staff psychologist at a clinic in a great location.

Your job description?  You will provide therapy and assessment, maintain appropriate documentation, collaborate with other health providers, yada, yada, yada.  That’s easy – you’ve done all this stuff before in your practica, internship, and fellowship – you’ve got this.

You will also have to supervise trainees.  You had a small taste of that in your training.  You fumble around a little as you figure it out, but you know enough about supervision to get by.

After you get settled and feel like you have a good handle on things, you notice there are some other kinds of positions open to psychologists.  These positions have additional responsibilities and they pay more money.

They have titles like “Coordinator,“ “Director,” “Division Manager,” and “Chief Mental Health Officer.”  You have heard these titles before and have known lots of people who have held them.

Perhaps now you are ready to level up.

Potential Leadership Responsibilities

In addition to clinical work, your new responsibilities may include the following (with what you might be thinking):

  • Assessing qualifications of current and prospective employees (you may think: “I’ve interviewed graduate applicants before, no big deal, really.”)
  • Development and implementation of programming and policies (“I can do that…I guess.”)
  • Oversight of administrative programmatic resources (“Huh?”)
  • Ability to develop productivity standards for each service (“Are you sure this is for a job in clinical psychology?”)
  • Development of training programs for non-psychology staff members (“I never learned about training development, but I taught some undergraduate courses. That’s the same skill set, right?”)

You get the job and now you are living large.  What a great career you turned out to have!

Yet, you feel like you “wing it” most of the time.  After all, you have not been formally trained to do a lot of the things that your job position requires of you as a clinical psychologist in a leadership role.  Don’t you wish you had some solid training in leadership?

Scenarios like this are not uncommon.  Many great jobs in clinical or counseling psychology place individuals in positions that require skills not typically covered in their doctoral psychology training programs.

The result?  Highly skilled psychologists performing their jobs at levels below their maximum potential.  So what can you do about it?  You can begin learning about leadership at whatever level of training you are right now.

What is Leadership?

Leadership is about more than just your job title.  It is about the influence you have on others around you in your workplace.

Whatever you choose to do with your degree in psychology, you have the opportunity to effectively lead others in a way that makes them grow as persons, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely to serve others as leaders (Greenleaf, 1970).  This requires skills that extend beyond helping clients in a controlled treatment setting.

A leader embodies qualities of good character, acquires abilities to think systemically and communicate effectively across professions, and engages in behaviors that are consistent with these attributes.  Others recognize these assets in a strong leader, and they choose to follow willingly.  Leadership ability like this is a valuable advantage for every psychologist, and an absolute must for those in management roles.

Where Should I Start?

You can start taking steps to becoming a strong leader regardless of your current level of training.  It is never too early – or too late – to learn about leadership. Here are a few things you can start doing right now:

Seek Out Leadership Resources – Here are a Few!

Type “leadership” in a search engine and you are likely to get numerous guides proposing “10 Things That Will Make You a Great Leader” or “7 Things That All Great Leaders Have in Common” or 12 things, or 4 things, or even 23 things.  These may be insightful tips, but the topic of leadership has much more to offer than condensed to-do lists.

Below are a few suggested resources to help you dig a little deeper and learn more about theories and research behind leadership, and about how you can start developing effective leadership skills.

Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders
In this book, retired Navy captain David Marquet discusses how leaders can build environments where people contribute and feel valued, and where everyone is a leader.  You can view an entertaining video synopsis of Captain Marquet’s explanation of leadership here.

The Truth About Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know
This book by James Kouzes and Barry Posner addresses the hard work it takes to develop oneself as a leader.  The authors describe their book in this video.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t
Jim Collins used interviews with over 100 leaders to determine what sets great companies apart from all the rest.  You can find links to audio and video clips about what Jim Collins calls Level 5 Leadership here.

First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
The authors of this book provide an explanation of how and why front-line managers are the keys to attracting and retaining talented employees.  A must-read for anyone who might find him- or herself in a role such as this!  You can learn about Marcus Buckingham and this book in this video.

Seek Out Opportunities for Experience

If becoming a leader appeals to you, you might want to apply for an internship or fellowship that offers training opportunities specific to leadership.

For example, some programs offer experience in supervision, while others do not.  If overseeing the work of others is of interest to you, perhaps this should be a factor as you choose sites where you will apply.  Some may even have opportunities to supervise non-psychology staff members.

As another example, the National Center for Organizational Development (NCOD) is a unique rotation opportunity at the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center that has an emphasis on leadership as well as other areas of organizational development.  Other programs may include leadership workshops that you can attend to develop your knowledge and skills.

Maintain Ongoing Development

Once in the workplace, you can continue to read materials, take webinars, and attend workshops that will meet your needs as you become aware of them in your particular leadership role.

If you want to climb higher up the ladder, many organizations also have leadership programs in which you can participate to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes (commonly known as KSAs) that will make you eligible for higher-level positions.

You may hear the term “leadership pipeline” at certain organizations.  A leadership pipeline is a plan and method for developing individuals to be ready for leadership positions when there are openings that need to be filled.  If your goal is to step into one of those positions, find out what that pathway is in your organization and dive in!


Greenleaf, R. K. (1991). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

Tara Luchkiw Rosema
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