Dave Coplan is the Executive Director of the Human Services Center and Director of the Mon Valley Providers Council. In 2006, Dave launched a separate college access nonprofit -Advancing Academics. He teaches courses at the University of Pittsburgh on nonprofit management, fundraising, human resources, public policy, and advocacy and lobbying.
Number of years in management: More than 10 years
Tell us about your path to management:
I started at the Human Services Center as an undergraduate BASW intern and progressed through positions while I was in graduate school. Just a few months after completing a dual masters in social work and public administration, I was promoted to Associate Director. I served in that role for 11 years prior to my promotion to Executive Director in 2004.
What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals?
Good communication – which goes both ways. First, I like to be very open with our team to engage them and keep them fully informed. Second (and this is at the risk of offending my wife), I need to be an active listener (she does not think I hear a word she says). Communication and mutual accountability are cornerstones of successful leadership.
How do you motivate your team members?
First, by making sure they have a real voice through good communication. Second, by engaging them at all points in processes or changes. Lastly, we have staff outings to get folks to better know one another to be motivated to work together as a team.
Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey?
When I first started at the Human Services Center as an intern in 1990, Tracy Soska was our Executive Director and my field instructor and Randy Thomas was our Associate Director. Shortly after I finished my MSW and MPA in 1993, Tracy went to Pitt and Randy and I were promoted. I continued to work with Randy until 2004 when he retired. I also got to continue and still work with Tracy who is at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work COSA Program where I teach. Both Tracy and Randy are mentors and friends who have helped to shape who I am.
How has networking impacted your career?
It is the cornerstone of my professional existence. I have been in social services in the greater Pittsburgh region for 27+ years and have an extensive network. I am intentionally not on social media, but I am “connected” to over 2,500 real people/contacts. Not a bragging point, rather a statement that meeting people and working with others is critical to our field.
What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?
Start networking. Build a real network and cultivate relationships. Identify people who can be your mentors – people who will invest in you and connect you to others by making formal introductions and informally opening the proverbial doors. For those in leadership roles, nurture your network and keep contact with your mentors while you begin to mentor others.
Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?
My agency is very active in advocacy and lobbying efforts and I teach a course for Pitt’s School of Social Work as well. Engaging in the political process from voter engagement to outright lobbying is vital work to the success of our sector on behalf of those we serve.
What do you wish you had known before you started your career?
At the start of my career, I worked long hours. I wish I had known then that time is our greatest commodity. Unlike money, time is finite.
Share a mistake of failure that provided the most growth in your career.
I am a painfully direct person and early in my career learned the hard way that sometimes it is best to pull someone aside if you have criticism rather than during a meeting with others. Luckily, one of my mentors was in the meeting and afterward he pulled me aside to give me constructive guidance on how to better handle that situation and maintain stronger relationships with peers and colleagues.
What are you reading and/or following now (e.g. book, blog, social media groups, etc.)?
Stanford Social Innovation Review is the only publication I purchase for work purposes and I deeply appreciate Vu Le’s nonprofitwithballs.com.
To contact Dave for any inquiries please email him at …