Nicki Sanders, MSW, has over 20 years of direct service experience in youth development, program planning, community engagement, and sexual health education.
She is an accomplished supervisor, professor, trainer, and group facilitator who has merged her degree and work experience into Nicki Sanders Consulting to help managers uplevel their leadership skills and businesses increase employee recruitment and retention.
Number of years in management: 12
Tell us about your path to management:
I enrolled in graduate school seven years after earning my bachelor’s degree with the intention of working in program development and management. I earned a master’s degree in social work with a concentration in Management and Community Organization and a specialization in Social Action and Community Development from University of Maryland School of Social Work.
While pursuing my master’s degree, I was promoted from Site Coordinator/Case Manager to lead Site Coordinator where my responsibilities including mentoring and training my colleagues in the same position. I was promoted to Assistant Director after my immediate supervisor left the organization. After earning my master’s degree in 2008, I joined a youth development agency in the Washington metropolitan area as Director of Programs. In this position I am tasked with hiring, training, and supervising program staff, interns, and volunteers. I have managed program expansion, led curriculum development, and serve as the main point of contact for service collaborations, partnerships, and programming requests. We serve 500 middle and high school girls annually in our school-based programs.
What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals?
In order to lead you must serve. Understanding that my role is to serve my agency so that the agency can serve our employees and our employees can serve our girls has led me to new levels of empathy and compassion.
What I believe has served me well in my career is authenticity. My engagements and interactions are led by my beliefs and core values. I think we do a disservice to ourselves and our companies by hiding who we are or following the status quo.
How do you motivate your team members?
I would say that trust and flexibility are the two qualities that help me build strong connections with my team. They know that I care about them as people and professionals. When people feel appreciated, it shows in their work.
I don’t think my job is to motivate people as much as it is to hire skilled professionals who are self-motivated because they believe in the mission and have a healthy work ethic. My job is to ensure that they have the support and tools they need to succeed and that compassion fatigue or organizational culture or other preventable issues don’t demotivate them.
Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey?
I have been blessed to be surrounded by great people – family, friends, teachers, supervisors, and coworkers – who have encouraged and inspired me throughout my educational and professional journey.
How has networking impacted your career?
I am an introvert who loves people. Relationships are important to me. My professional network has expanded my knowledge, perspectives and opportunities. I also understand that a strong network is one that continues to diversify and grow so I also attend networking events to make new connections and ultimately expand my impact.
What are you reading and/or following now (book, blog, social media groups, etc)?
I love reading and just completed ‘Believe Bigger: Discover the Path to Your Life Purpose’ by Marshawn Evans Daniels and ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t’ by James C. Collins on audiobook.
What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?
My advice to both new and seasoned professionals is to be optimistic, treat your people well, set healthy boundaries, continue to learn and update your knowledge and skills, and to lead with authenticity. Oh, and please don’t become a micromanager.
Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?
Currently (during National Volunteer Month) Nicki Sanders Consulting is hosting our Annual Pack A Backpack Drive™ where we collect backpacks and personal hygiene items for teen boys in foster homes, group homes, and homeless shelters. Donations are delivered in May during National Foster Care Month.
What do you wish you had known before you started your career?
What I wish I had known before I started my career is that it is acceptable to change course. That diversifying your jobs/roles and working with various populations can make you a more well-rounded professional.
Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.
Not recognizing and heeding the warning signs of compassion fatigue and burnout led to a pivotal point in my career. Overcoming burnout has allowed me to set healthy boundaries, do work that I love, and share with my staff, interns, students, and clients the importance of individualized self-care and proper supervision and support.