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Joe Buehrle, MSW, VP of Organizational Planning at SAY (Social Advocates for Youth) San Diego

Joe Buehrle, MSW, is Vice President of Organizational Planning at SAY (Social Advocates for Youth) San Diego. He has a myriad of experience working with diverse populations as a creative community organizer and social justice advocate. Joe Buehrle is  interested in multi-sector approaches to advance collective impact strategies and bring sustainable social change.

Number of years in management: More than 10 years

Tell us about your path to management:

I landed in social work because I knew I wanted to work in human services and the versatility of the field provided me the comfort of knowing I would not be locked into just one type of work. I got my BSW and worked in foster home licensing for four years and then clinical case management for a year. When researching graduate programs, I knew that my long-term career goal was not to do one-on-one clinical work or therapy. I was interested in communities, community development and systems change issues. I applied and got accepted to the University of Michigan where they had a social systems emphasis which both deviated from the traditional management route and the clinical route, but, was on par with my interest in community development and community engagement. During my graduate program, I was part of the Community Based Initiative Fellowship that placed me in Detroit for my internship. There I worked in low income housing and resident engagement where I really loved the work that I did and learned a lot. After I finished my program, I moved to San Diego and served as the Director of the Military Family Resource Center at SAY San Diego for seven years.  As Director, my time was split between coordinating the family center and being the facilitator to the military family collaborative, which brought together over 100 organizations that served the military and their family. A few months ago, I was offered the position I hold currently as Vice President of Organizational Planning for SAY San Diego. SAY San Diego is a comprehensive multi- service agency that serves infants through adults with various programs and support.

What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals? 

I have always relied on a facilitative leadership style in every role that I find myself in. I feel that my role as a leader is to listen and learn from everyone. You have to balance being both teacher and learner at all times and learn how to navigate those two roles.

How do you motivate your team members? 

One way to motivate my team is by giving everyone a voice in the development process and recognizing that everyone has something valuable to contribute to the bigger picture. Motivation comes about when the process is co-created by the team and understanding what we want to do and where we want to go.

Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired you along your professional journey?

Throughout my career there have been key people along the road that have given me the space to grow and be challenged. Early on in my career I participated in Institutes for Human Racism which was a facilitated intergroup dialogue process about race, social justice and equity. Being in a diverse group of folks that I was learning alongside, led to a journey where I asked myself what can I do as an ally, given that all my identities are ones of privilege. That process was filled with key leaders and made a lasting impact on me.  Later in graduate school, I sought out like-minded mentors and I was the TA to my professor, Michael Spencer, who specialized in inner group dialogue and race relations.  Even now almost 10 years later, I draw daily from our conversations.

How has networking impacted your career?

Networking has greatly impacted my career. I learned that as an extrovert, networking comes naturally to me.  I get energy from meeting new folks, and hearing new ideas and perspectives. When I first moved to San Diego without a job or knowing anyone, I attended a lot of professional networking and nonprofit events. To this day some of my closest friends personally and professionally have been people I meet at those early networking events. I’ve been on the Board of the San Diego Chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professional’s Network as well as the Board of the San Diego Association of Nonprofits so really it’s about getting out there and creating opportunities for yourself.

What are you reading and/or following now (e.g. book, blog, social media groups, etc.)?

In general, I like the podcast, “On Being.” While it is not directly about the field, it is always very thought provoking as it explores different aspects of the human experience. My favorite author is Wendell Berry, who has done a lot work around food justice, stainable farming and land use long before it was popular. Berry has a book called “Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community” that I go back to and reread from time to time, so I recommend that.

What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions? 

For me, the most powerful thing has been building a strong network of professional friends and colleagues. It starts with putting yourself out there and going to different events. A lot of opportunity is embedded in relationships and building relationships in a way that is genuine and authentic is essential. This has been a strength on my behalf that has rounded out my professional journey. I believe that when you learn from others you also learn about yourself so it’s important to be intentional and seek out listening and learning from others.  People love to share their knowledge and story.

Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?

One of the ideas we are currently exploring at SAY San Diego is how we, as a larger multiservice organization, form an integrative system of service delivery that is person-centered, puts the client first and has a high level of customer service. For example, other fields are naturally customer driven, whereas, historically social services have operated on a need based or deficit based approach when engaging people. Our challenge now comes with looking at how we can have high levels of customer service and low-levels of stigma so that we can begin to broaden the way we think to better holistically serve and support clients. Can we better serve the people coming through the door, whether it is by improving ourselves as employees, working in the field more, or partnering more with others? How do we build a culture that is framed to revolve around people and what systematically is needed to build such a culture.

What do you wish you had known before you started your career?

I think the biggest thing to learn is to trust your gut and your passion and recognize your natural inclinations and what you gravitate towards. Focus on things that give you energy and trust that the journey will take you where you need to go.  If you just take a step back and follow your passion, the career will find you, and it’s important to remember why one started in this field.

Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.

The perspective that I had when starting this journey and who I thought I was is totally different from where I am now. The mistake was assuming that I understood or knew how to “help” people. I learned that there is no such thing as one sided help, not all help is useful, and that help is an exchange process; when you help people they help you too. At the beginning of my career there were many times that my communication was ineffective with people because I came in with a mindset of I am here to help you, I have the solution to your problem, whereas now I know that everyone has something to bring to the table. There is an old proverb that goes, “If you come only to help me, you can go back home.  But if you consider my struggle as part of your own survival, then maybe we can work together.” Looking back I know there were times where I did not meet the client or community where they were and I had to learn to reframe my way of thinking/being.

To contact Joe Buehrle for any inquiries please email him at …  jbuehrle@saysandiego.org

The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.

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