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Q&A with Leadership Institute Alumni

NWCPHP sits down with Leadership Institute alumni Jeff Hutchison and Audrey Levine to learn how their leadership projects have had an impact on their organization and personal growth.

NWCPHP sits down with Leadership Institute alumni Jeff Hutchison and Audrey Levine to learn how their leadership projects have had an impact on their organization and personal growth.

March 14, 2017

By designing and developing valuable leadership projects at their organizations, scholars in the annual Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute apply leadership skills and ideas they have learned over the preceding months to their own work. Scholars present the results of their projects to each other and faculty at the final session of the Institute.

“Leadership projects give participants the opportunity to be reflective and proactive about their professional leadership goals. The process allows for reflection on strengths and opportunities for growth, culminating in the step of planning for the future,” said Leadership Institute Director Michelle Sarju, MSW.

Jack Thompson, MSW, who oversees the leadership projects with Bruce Miyahara, MHA, describes the projects as a perfect opportunity for scholars to test their learning from Institute classes and seminars in the “real world” of leadership development. “The projects are important not only to the organizations for whom the scholar is working, but also for the scholar—as an opportunity to apply learning to solving actual problems through a leadership lens,” said Thompson.

The projects—and their effects on the agency—often continue after the institute wraps up. We checked back in with two alumni from the 2016 Leadership Institute cohort to see how their leadership projects had progressed.

Jeff headshot smallerName: Jeff Hutchison, R.S.
Project: Leadership Development— Environmental Health Specialists on Special Assignment
Agency: Snohomish Health District, WA
Position: Environmental Health Supervisor




What was your leadership project for the 2016 Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute?

My project was to build a leadership development program for my division at the Snohomish Health District. Specifically, I designed a program aimed at building specialty projects and assignments for Environmental Health Specialists looking to challenge themselves and develop their leadership skills.

Why did you choose this topic?
Organizations tend only to acknowledge the importance of leadership and leadership development as they pertain to those in management or supervisory positions. Developing leadership skills in all levels of an organization not only prepares individuals for future management-level positions, but it can also serve to energize staff through interesting and challenging projects that can lead to better employee engagement, satisfaction, and sense of accomplishment, as well as staff retention. This in turn creates a healthier and more positive atmosphere where everyone can feel that their contributions have greater value and that opportunities exist for anyone with the desire to pursue them. Not everyone wants to be a manager or supervisor, but everyone can be a leader.

How are your project accomplishments affecting your organization?
My proposal is a piece of the Environmental Health Division’s succession and workforce development plan that is currently under development. For now, the project has been acknowledged as something worthy and beneficial to the organization. I look forward to the implementation phase, which should occur sometime in 2017.

How has this experience influenced you and your personal leadership development?
It has really helped me to better understand the needs of those I supervise, which I believe has not only helped me become a much more effective resource to them, but has helped me improve upon my own leadership skills as well. All of us have a job to do, which in many cases means grinding away at our daily work expectations, but it doesn’t have to be just that. We can develop a more engaged and motivated workforce by creating an atmosphere and culture that looks to seize opportunities that go above and beyond those daily tasks.

My goal is to find interesting projects and opportunities that will allow individuals to take charge and develop those leadership skills. When these skills are allowed to flourish, it can become contagious. Modeling these skills raises the bar and leads the way for others to become more engaged and excited about their work.

Audrey headshot smaller

Name: Audrey Levine, LM CPM-Retired
Project: Shared and Distributed Leadership: A Proposal for National Association of Certified Professional Midwives (NACPM)’s Future
Agency: NACPM
Position: Co-President



What was your leadership project for the 2016 Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute?
My project was to explore models of shared and distributed leadership and bring to the board of the National Association of Certified Professional Midwives (NACPM) a proposal for cross-racial shared leadership of the organization. This would build on our leadership team’s existing model, in which we work in teams and do project-based activities.

I asked my colleague Tanya Khemet to be my thought partner. For the Leadership Institute, I did the research and shared with her the readings I collected. Together we developed the proposal. The timing with the Leadership Institute was perfect; we suggested the idea in April of 2016, and brought the proposal to the board in the fall.

Why did you choose this topic?
There had been an assumption at NACPM that—because I’d been vice president—I was going to step into the role of president when we transitioned leadership. I was uncomfortable with that idea, because as a leadership team we had identified equity and anti-racism as a core commitment. It didn’t feel right to have another upper-middle-class white woman leading this organization, particularly given our identified goals of building a more representative midwifery workforce and making CPMs more relevant to the maternity care system and to the increasingly diverse population of childbearing families in the United States.

The project aligned perfectly with the Leadership Institute theme of health equity.

How are your project accomplishments affecting your organization?

The board agreed to adopt this proposed model of cross-racial shared leadership. Tanya and I were voted in as co-presidents. One immediate change was that the other women of color on the board have engaged more. By their own account, there is a sense that what matters to them is now going to be more of a focus.

As a result of NACPM’s more public commitment to promoting equity, we’re building more relationships and partnerships with perinatal organizations run by and for women of color.

We have also been doing a series of webinars for our membership, including one with Dr. Michael Lu on the life course perspective and one on the impact of racism and stress on cellular structure.

The results of this project have also really shaped our policy work and will continue to do so. It has also given us an opportunity as a leadership team to practice skills to dismantle and unravel our own racist behaviors.

We are also identifying needs and ideas for building a more representative midwifery workforce. These include scholarship and mentorship programs, and talking to accredited midwifery schools and programs around the country about how to adopt policies about anti-racism and equity, change their culture, and diversify faculty.

How has this experience influenced you and your personal leadership development?
It’s made me hungry for more. On the recommendation of institute instructor Kurt O’Brien, our board is doing a strengths-finder assessment and identifying our collaborative strengths as a leadership team. Personally, I’m learning to listen better, as a leadership skill. There are many principles I read about in gathering material for my leadership project that I’m still trying to integrate.

I don’t take credit for the changes I’ve seen on our leadership team; it’s very synergistic. I’ve heard from others that they feel a different kind of excitement and engagement with the work. It’s exciting.

I feel very grateful to have been working with the Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute. It really set me on a path. Even though the conversations around equity were sometimes bumpy and messy, it felt like necessary work. It gave me a place where I could build my own skills and racial stamina for staying in uncomfortable conversations.

The deadline to apply for the 2017 Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute is March 24. Apply today, or contact for more information.

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