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Monday Morning Manager, Dawn-Marie Tol

“I earned my MSW (Administration Concentration) from San Diego State University (SDSU) and have over 20 years social services work and volunteer experience, including extensive experience in the HIV/AIDS community. I have secured grants; developed, implemented and overseen programs; developed and delivered trainings; and have expertise in health systems literacy, trauma-informed service provision and the impact of vicarious experiences on front line professionals. I conduct workshops and am a panel participant for presentations the job search process for students who are graduating, as part of my paying it forward into our profession. I have been at Christie’s Place for over three years, where I am now the Clinical Manager.”

Q 1) Tell us about your path to management:
I earned my BASW and MSW at SDSU. I already had been working and volunteering in the HIV community before earning my degrees and knew I wanted to continue after I completed school; it was where my passion and my heart had been for so long. I also recognized there would be valuable opportunities in other communities. When the HIV intensive case management program for which I was a Medical Case Manager was defunded and discontinued, I took a position at another agency as a supervisor for refugee resettlement programs, working with another population that stoked my professional passions. While there, I developed and oversaw a medical case management and health literacy program. It was a “split position”, so I also provided medical case management services, which kept me grounded in direct services. After several years, I knew it was time to return to the HIV community. I reached out to colleagues, asking them to let me know if they hear of any openings for which they thought I would be a good fit. Within a couple of months, I interviewed at Christie’s Place, where I was hired as a Retention Coordinator, and where I am now the Clinical Manager.

Q 2) What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals?
I try to follow Max DePree’s philosophy, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”  If I can provide the support that staff need to be a success, then I can get out of their way so they can pursue success. Being willing to say “I don’t know” and letting someone know you need time to find the answer; then, of course, getting an answer for them. These are especially important approaches when implementing new programs and processes, which can be frustrating.

Also, giving people the opportunity to laugh “at-with” me – we all have things we have to do, and don’t want to, or difficult situations with which we would rather not be faced. I always have found it to be helpful to laugh (good-naturedly) “at-with” colleagues and supervisors as a way to make it easier to do the stuff we don’t want to do. When you know your boss is just as stuck as you with “stuff I don’t want to do” – and your boss can laugh with you, then everyone is able to get down to doing that task.  I think it is part of both “defining reality” and creating an environment where humor can help ameliorate the challenges, small or big.

Q 3) How do you motivate your team members?
The management team at Christie’s Place recognizes the importance of tapping into people’s passions and desires for growth and development. In that vein, I provide opportunities for staff to grow, and trust them to take on the opportunity; provide “other duties as assigned” that are relevant to them and tap into their strengths, internal motivations, and goals for professional development when such opportunities are available. Everyone is motivated differently and to sustain motivation a person needs to have internal motivations engaged, not just external motivations; otherwise, they are going to be motivated only when those external factors are in place. It is not possible or reasonable to expect managers to provide motivation to all staff members consistently and on a constant basis. I talk with staff about what drives and motivates them to work at Christie’s Place, and to do the work they do everyday, and identify ways to engage that motivation with the support of management.

Q 4) Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey?
I have been fortunate to have people to whom I looked for inspiration and assistance at various points in my professional development. When I was in school, I worked as a Research Assistant on several projects and studies for Dr. Melinda Hohman (the newly retired Director of the SDSU School of Social Work). She reminded me of the importance of knowing when to “toot your own horn”, a lesson I still apply; she entrusted me with several significant components of one of the large projects, giving me the opportunity to learn what it really takes to conduct research in alignment with both a federal contract and agency PnP; and she taught me the importance of not just listening to people, but making sure they experience being listened to. Retired professor Michael Eichler (founder of the Consensus Organizing Center, and current playwright) significantly informed my belief in the superiority of smaller, rooted, sustainable change that provides permanent improvements upon which a person or community can build versus the large, flashy improvements that garner attention, but are typically evanescent. I still seek incremental, meaningful, sustainable change in everything I do. Dr. David Engstrom, who chaired my thesis with high expectations of my performance and deep commitment to my success and who coordinated the international internship program in Thailand in which I participated. Each were transformative experiences that inform my work to this day. When I was on the HIV case management team, my manager (Jan) was kind, knowledgeable, pragmatic, and dedicated to ensuring high quality work from herself and her staff. When I moved on to my first supervisory position at another agency (as I talked about above), I looked back on my time working for her and considered what she would do when I was in “decision-making” mode.

Q 5) How has networking impacted your career?
Networking is vital to most pursuits in our profession. Maintaining contacts and establishing new ones supported success in my job searches. Networking continues to help me find people with expertise needed by my employers and staff; identify and access resources for clients, staff, and colleagues; connect professionals with one another to foster relationships and create formal partnerships; and develop relationships that support initiatives, efforts, and collaborations in which I am involved.

Q 6) What are you reading and/or following now (e.g. book, blog, social media groups, etc.)?
I just finished Marc Maron’s “Waiting for the Punch” and “King, Queen, Knave”, by Vladmir Nabokov and I just started “ When They Call You a Terrorist” by Patrisse Khan-Cullors. I devour the New York Times, New Yorker and Washington Post. I am not very active on social media; I follow a few artistsorganizations and experts in areas I find to be of interest including Keith Knight (Gentleman Cartoonist)Electronic Frontier FoundationNeil DeGrasse TysonComic Book Legal Defense Fund,  Safety Pin Progressive Project, and of course Christie’s Place!

Q 7) What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?
Own your mistakes and your successes, each one in equitable measure.

Q 8) Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?
Christie’s Place has two projects I would like to share with readers. First is a study we are conducting of our EmPower program, through which we provide services to women living with HIV who are at risk of being, or currently are, out of care. The women who are selected to participate in the study are provided peer navigation services (services provided by women living well with HIV that support participants’ ability to engage and be retained in care), and participate in a psycho-educational group to develop knowledge and skills related to emotional regulation, communication and healthy relationship behaviors.

Christie’s Place is also working to expand our ability to provide comprehensive trauma-informed service provision training to other providers. Christie’s Place’s CHANGE (Coordinated HIV Assistance and Navigation for Growth and Empowerment) model, which utilizes the skills and talents of women living with HIV as providers of peer-based services, is nationally recognized and has been shown to be effective in improving engagement in care not only with women living with HIV, but with other subpopulations of people living with HIV and with people living with other chronic illnesses. Additionally, CHANGE was recently included under a HRSA project as an evidence-informed intervention. As the recognition of the vital nature of trauma-informed service provision has expanded, Christie’s Place has endeavored to support the efforts of agencies to incorporate trauma-informed service provision as their service model from training through implementation and ongoing technical assistance.

Q 9) What do you wish you had known before you started your career?
There isn’t any one thing stand stands out to me as an “I wish I had known.”

Q 10) Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.
A couple years ago my supervisor gave me the opportunity to coordinate the crafting of a grant proposal for a multi-year, large-scale project. I was not yet the Clinical Manager, and had never taken on a grant proposal this massive; but I dug in, bringing in other staff who worked with me to develop the proposed program, budget, positions, everything that goes into such a proposal. I made sure to “do all the right things” including having people who have successfully secured large grants review the proposal to provide feedback until everyone considered it to be submission-worthy. We did not get the grant, and it resonated with me as a failure and I still consider this a failure. It also was an incredible learning experience that provided significant growth opportunities. I further developed skill sets I deploy regularly to successfully secure funding, design or revamp programs, and coordinate large scale projects, skills that I will use for the rest of my career. I honed my program design skills at a larger scale than I had previously experienced. I experienced my supervisor trusting that I would take on writing this grant with the dedication required (knowing I would have to learn along the way) – a reflection of her leadership skills and style that are an example to me. Most importantly, I bring all of this experience and learning together so I can continue to learn from this failure in ways that support my successes.

Q 11) Where can people reach you for questions? (social media profiles such as Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter, email or phone) 

The easiest place to find me is via email:

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

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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