Leadership Development and Mentoring: Building the Prevention Workforce of Today and Tomorrow

New England PTTC: Scott Gagnon, Erin Burnett, Kristen Erickson & Sarah Johnson


An important aspect of workforce development within the nation's prevention workforce is leadership development. As demographics shift and members of the workforce enter into retirement, it is crucial to prepare and build the next generation of prevention leaders' capacity so we can continue to grow and advance the field into the 21st century. Meanwhile, current conditions are creating big demands on current leaders within prevention. Just in the past 5 to 7 years, our field has had to face the emergence of the opioid crisis, and now we find ourselves in the middle of a deadly, global pandemic that has dramatically changed the landscape and the context of where and how prevention can happen in our states and communities. Through needs assessments and engagement with regional prevention stakeholders, the New England Prevention Technology Transfer Center (PTTC) has recognized this as a priority area within its region and has launched or collaborated on several programs and initiatives.

One program that just launched in September is the New England PTTC's Project ECHO® program: Advancing Management and Leadership Skills for Prevention Professionals. Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes) is an evidence-based distance learning method developed by researchers at the University of New Mexico. A group of faculty experts meets regularly with a participant cohort to engage in case-based discussion and learning. Using this format, this group will meet for 1 hour via Zoom videoconference monthly for nine months consecutively. Each session will include a brief expert-led educational didactic and an extended participant-led case discussion. The Project ECHO is an all-learn, all-teach model in which both the experts and participants engage in knowledge sharing throughout the program.

Through the New England PTTC Project ECHO, we seek to provide support and education for supervisors and emerging leaders in the prevention field on topics related to positive workplace culture, including staff development, retention, and prevention of burnout, coaching, and more. Through our Needs Assessment, we learned it is difficult for prevention leaders to access training in management and supervision topics specific to prevention, especially for those in small organizations. We will address many of these topics in this ECHO, with the goal to provide support for leaders and emerging leaders in the New England Prevention Workforce and speed the dissemination of best practices to support workforce development in their communities. This ECHO also provides an opportunity for prevention leaders in different communities to network and connect with each other.

At the conclusion of the ECHO, participants will be able to: Describe best practices for developing prevention skills and workforce capacity, differentiate between leadership and management skills and practices, and discuss strategies to overcome common workforce issues. A group of over twenty prevention professionals from around the New England region applied and are participating in the ECHO.  Additionally, a six-person faculty, also known as the hub, will lead didactic sessions and provide feedback to participants on the cases they present in the ECHO sessions.  Faculty includes Dr. Pierluigi Mancini, Director of the National Hispanic and Latino Prevention Technology Transfer Center. 

Kristen Erickson is the New England PTTC's Distance Learning Coordinator and the lead on planning and implementing the centers' Project ECHO programs. "One of the benefits of the Project ECHO model is that it allows participants to learn directly from their peers in similar roles and build a sense of community with each other, as well as learning from experts in the field," Kristen shares. "This is the first Project ECHO to focus on management and leadership in prevention, and we hope this unique opportunity will provide participants with useful skills they can apply in their everyday work."

Feedback from the New England PTTC Needs Assessment conducted in 2019 and from other prevention providers in New England indicated the need for mentors for newer prevention professionals, particularly where they work in organizations where organizational supervisors may have little to no Substance Use Disorder prevention background. Another identified need was advanced training for professionals who have been in the field longer. The Prevention Mentoring program combines these efforts, offering one-to-one mentorship on a state level, as well as a peer cohort of mentors and mentees from all six New England states who will learn from each other and will get exclusive access to advanced level trainings on identified topics of leadership, coaching, and the IC&RC Prevention Performance Domains. The program's ultimate goal is to increase the retention and quality of a prevention workforce that is educated, qualified, culturally competent, diverse, and growing. This includes the intention to support mentees in feeling confident and ultimately sitting for their IC&RC Prevention Specialist certification exam.

The participants will work with a toolkit designed to be functional for a variety of learning styles and needs, which will help them customize their mentor/mentee relationships, set goals, and determine their ideal outcomes for the program and their career trajectories, as well as tracking conversations and communicating with their employers about the program.

The evaluation plan for the program consists of pre and post measurements of the
participant's skills and knowledge, a measurement of their goals and planned outcomes, and monthly, post one-to-one feedback forms from all participants also serve to steer the pilot year.

Though the model is based on in-person quarterly cohort meetings, due to COVID-19 the first pilot year will be entirely virtual.

Sarah Johnson is New England PTTC's Training Project Coordinator and along with Training and Outreach Coordinator, Erin Burnett, have been the leads on designing and planning this pilot program. "One interesting dynamic of the Prevention Mentoring Program is navigating the different dynamics of prevention of each state in New England and bringing all the players together as a cohort," Sarah remarks. "One of the most effective ways to fuel a good idea is to get a diverse group together to work on it- we did that with our workgroup to plan the Program, and we hope the cohorts serve a similar purpose."

Another leadership project has been collaborating with the New England Addiction Technology Transfer Center to support the Leadership Development Program created by their center.  This program focuses on key leadership skills using a range of learning methods designed to increase leadership effectiveness immediately.  The goals of the program are to address the ongoing need for effective individual leadership in addiction professions and to provide a learning experience that will accelerate leadership development to complement work experience. Before COVID, the program has been a mix of in-person and online modules. The newest cohort that launched in October will be fully virtual.

Previous to the launch of the PTTC Network, the New England ATTC's Leadership Development Program was open to professionals across the continuum of care, including those working in prevention.  Since PTTC network startup, the New England PTTC has collaborated to promote the program to the New England prevention workforce and to support the selection process for prevention professionals applying to the program.  Additionally, the New England PTTC has contributed by writing the case study that the prevention participants work through in the program.

New England PTTC's Erin Burnett was a participant in Cohort 2 of the program which took place in 2019. "The New England ATTC Leadership Development program came at an opportune time in my career," Erin remarks. "During the time I spent participating in the program, I was able to hone my leadership skills in ways that are effective for my personality type and conflict management style, which were determined using two different types of assessments conducted in the program. Identifying my personality type and conflict management style and learning how those play into my leadership style was critical in helping me learn how to effectively engage with individuals and groups that I interact with through various programs I manage and trainings I coordinate in my position supporting the substance use prevention workforce in New England."

All three of these programs align, not only with results from the regionwide needs assessments, they also connect to the major goals of the New England PTTC, to increase the capacity of the workforce to use prevention research to prevent and reduce substance use and to increase capacity to utilize core prevention skills in that work. Leadership development and mentoring are important strategies for building this capacity while also increasing retention and sustainability of the workforce. The New England PTTC recognizes this and will continue this focus in the years to come.


The New England Prevention Technology Transfer Center, administered by AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc., provides training and technical assistance services to the professional and volunteer prevention workforce within the New England states. The New England PTTC is developing a diverse program with multiple modes of training and information dissemination. This includes collaboration with states to hold live, in person trainings featuring the latest prevention science, but also multiple opportunities for distance learning to maximize the reach of technical assistance in the region. The New England PTTC also puts a focus on workforce development initiatives, to include introducing New England high school students and young adults to the many educational and career opportunities within the prevention field. 


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