Why Should I use the Tool Kit?

tool box

Leadership is Essential.

Effective leadership promotes the well-being of all members of an organization and facilitates better outcomes for families and children served by the agency.

Leadership is not a static, innate quality of a certain individual, nor does it relate to any specific position or job description. Agencies can cultivate leadership in many ways, including through professional development programs and individual initiatives that focus on the enhancement of specific leadership skills and competencies.

Leadership development begins in a classroom or through online courses, but effective leadership happens when skills transfer from the learning environment to the work environment. The purpose of this tool kit is to enable emerging child welfare leaders to learn how to live leadership through multiple activities that link to the child welfare leadership competencies detailed in the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute’s (NCWWI) Leadership Competency Model.

NCWWI’s Leadership Model & Competency Framework

Multiple holistic and integrated domains of leadership compose the NCWWI Leadership Model and offer a competency framework for professional leadership development. This tool kit complements the Leadership Model and Competency Framework that the NCWWI developed.

For more information on the leadership model, see NCWWI's website.

This model consists of: 1. Level 1 (base level): A foundation of five pillars (pillars are labeled Adaptive, Collaborative, Distributive, Inclusive, and Outcome Focused). 2. Level 2: Resting on top of the pillars there is a next level, labeled Leadership Principles. 3. Level 3: This top level consists of a circle divided into four quadrants with a surrounding arrow circling the entire circle to show it’s an iterative and ongoing process consisting of Flexibility, Internal, Control, and External factors. Between Flexibility and Internal, the quadrant is labeled “Leading People: Workforce Development. Between Internal and Control, the quadrant is labeled “Leading for Results: Accountability”. Between Control and Flexibility, the quadrant is labeled “Leading Change: Goal-Setting”. Between the External and Flexibility, the quadrant is labeled “Leading in Context: Building Collaboratives. In the middle of the circle there is a label that says “Self-Managing Regenerative”.

The 4 Domains of Leadership

Leading Change:
This domain reflects the strategic role of the leader to set and to realize high standards of organizational performance. This domain also emphasizes an action mind-set: the ability to plan strategically and the capacity to envision new responses to organizational, political, and social challenges.
Leading People:
This domain focuses on developing individuals and groups within the organization on emphasizing relationships, people, and related processes.
Leading for Results:
The focus of this domain is on workflow processes and various forms of work-related information and data. The domain encourages evidence-informed practice and the development of a chain of evidence from individual- to agency- to system-level outcomes.
Leading in Context:
This domain focuses on the importance of effectively and proactively engaging the external environment, through advocacy, boundary spanning, and working with the community.

Additionally, fundamental competencies relevant to each of the domains and necessary for leadership at all levels are at the heart of the model. Fundamental competencies include areas such as continuous learning, effective communication, initiative, interpersonal relations, integrity/honesty, resilience, personal leadership, and social responsibility.

Each domain specifies multiple competencies, which are sets of skills that manifest in behaviors that, when considered as a whole, achieve the purpose of that domain. For example, the Leading Change domain includes the competencies of creativity and innovation, external awareness, flexibility, strategic thinking, and vision. If a person achieves competence in all of those areas, (s)he would master “leading change.” This tool kit suggests activities for each of the competencies within the domains to help learners transfer knowledge and skills for more effective leadership on the job.

Take a look at each individual Leadership Domain for the definitions for each competency within each domain.

Leadership Pillars

Completing the model are the five “pillars” of leadership. These pillars reflect desired qualities and values of effective leadership within the child welfare field.

The pillars, which are foundational and provide an approach to leadership consistent with child welfare values (Bernotavicz, McDaniel, & Brittain, in press), include:

Adaptive leadership emphasizes the necessity of learning new ways of dealing with challenges (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009). Child welfare workers can manage technical challenges by employing their existing knowledge and established procedures. For them to handle adaptive challenges, on the other hand, they must use innovative thinking, challenging traditional approaches and the status quo.
Collaborative leadership engages the community to create opportunities to exchange information and share resources. Stakeholders unite around a common purpose to do more than just discuss, but also to take action on a joint agenda. Collaborative leadership stresses the process of community engagement (Lawson, 2008).
Distinct from inclusive leadership (see below), distributive leadership encourages and enacts leadership at all organizational levels (Spillane, 2006). Child welfare works defuse decision making and leadership responsibilities at all levels to encourage purposeful and collective action. The dynamic and interdependent interactions among individuals in context result in distributive leadership.
Inclusive leadership actively seeks and values diversity of perspective at all levels within the organization and with stakeholders. Inclusive leaders acknowledge that disparities exist; thus, they must provide intentional, intensive effort to engage diverse stakeholders, create a sense of urgency regarding issues of inclusion, promote leadership as a collective process, and rectify previously authoritarian approaches (Ryan, 2006).
Outcome Focused:
Child welfare agencies working toward outcome-focused leadership emphasize organizational and professional goals to achieve outcomes of safety, permanency, and well-being. Data and information help agencies create a more analytical approach to decision making and problem solving (Lawson, 2008).

Leaders acquire leadership competencies over time and through a variety of methods, including formal professional development programs and on-the-job experiences to promote transfer of learning.

The Need for a Tool Kit

Research on adult learning needs and transfer of learning activities makes clear the importance of this tool kit to encourage the application of the NCWWI Leadership Competency Model to the real world of child welfare leadership and practice.

Adult Learning

Learning is a lifelong pursuit, continuing throughout adulthood, and changing with time. Unlike children, adults need real-world experience to bring concepts to life. Teachers can teach leadership skills in the classroom, but that environment is rarely sufficient for people to become leaders. Instead, adults must experience and live the leadership competencies to become increasingly proficient in them.

Principles of adult learning have been well articulated and researched (Knowles, 1980; Tiberius & Tipping, 1990; Caffarella & Merriam, 1999). Adults need to know how learning will benefit them before they are motivated to learn. They also need to take responsibility for their own learning and participate in assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating that learning. Adults accumulate a vast array of experiences that they can draw upon to understand and apply to new concepts. Further, adults need to make connections from their previous experiences to new content in order to learn and grow.

Adult learning also happens in multiple settings: formal, such as at schools and universities; informal, through everyday experiences; and non-formal, within opportunities outside the formal system such as on-the-job training (Coombs & Ahmed, 1974).

A greater understanding of adult learning has significant implications for adult education (Knowles, 1980). Adults bring vast resources to their learning contexts and these especially inform experiential techniques, such as case studies, simulations, practice exercises, and action projects. Learning opportunities should also promote the practical application of new knowledge and information relevant to the adult’s experience.

Whatever adults learn, it must be relevant and meaningful to the learner. Research shows that experience is key to a person’s ability to create, retain, and transfer new knowledge (Argote, McEvily, & Reagans, 2003). This tool kit offers a wide variety of activities made relevant to each learner through the customized approach for each activity.

“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”

Kolb, 1984

Transfer of Learning

Transfer of learning is generally defined as the application of skills and knowledge acquired during classroom training to performance on the job (Cromwell & Kolb, 2004). Many see formal classroom training as the most efficient way to prepare child welfare staff for their jobs. However, classroom training alone is not sufficient. Several studies cite an estimate by Baldwin and Ford (1988) that only 10 to 20% of what is taught in training actually transfers to the job.

Yet adults must apply transfer of learning to ensure that they can effectively use their new knowledge and skills. Thus, post-classroom activities ensure that learners sufficiently retain and realize classroom training and its goals. Transfer of knowledge occurs gradually over time as new behaviors are practiced, reinforced, and strengthened in the job setting. When child welfare workers learn skills during training, they must then practice these skills on the job for the learning to continue (Broad & Newstrom, 1992).

Users of the tool kit will develop new learning using the principles of adult learning, as well as transfer learning from the classroom to the field through real-world experiences of learning and living the NCWWI Leadership Model.

The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI)

Funded through a cooperative agreement with the Children’s Bureau, the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) is a collaborative among nine schools of social work. Serving as a national learning and capacity-building resource, NCWWI spearheads strategies to build the leadership capacity of the national child welfare workforce and implement meaningful change in child welfare.

To this end, NCWWI uses four main components:

  1. Cultivating middle managers’ leadership capacity for systems change.

    The Leadership Academy for Middle Managers (LAMM) is a weeklong residential program—followed by peer networking and coaching—whose goal is to enable middle managers in public and tribal child welfare to lead sustainable systems change. A team of training consultants present a written curriculum in the residential program and provide opportunities for self-assessment, peer learning, and coaching prior to, during, and after the residential program. LAMM participants identify and develop change initiatives that are part of efforts in states and tribes to improve outcomes for children, youth, and families. NCWWI provides resources and support to strengthen the implementation of these projects. Evaluation findings show significant gains in all competency areas from pre- to post-training, and participants indicate they are using LAMM leadership skills in their work. Since 2009, 15 LAMM trainings have been held regionally for more than 400 state and tribal middle managers, as well as a LAMM tribal coaching event for graduates from tribal agencies.

  2. Advancing supervisory leadership skills and competencies.

    Many states and counties are prioritizing leadership development for frontline supervisors, using a developmental approach with multiple strategies designed to strengthen key competencies. Since 2009, NCWWI’s Leadership Academy for Supervisors (LAS), which includes a core curriculum, four stand-alone modules of the Take the Lead Series, and facilitated peer networking, has provided free online leadership training to more than 1,600 experienced child welfare supervisors. The core curriculum includes six modules comprising 21 hours of online learning. Each module is followed by a synchronous session that can be delivered either remotely or in face-to-face sessions. More than 10 state and county training departments are implementing LAS, using a more coordinated approach and facilitating their own state/county cohorts, learning networks, and individual or group coaching.

  3. Building an effective child welfare pipeline.

    Traineeship projects are building a more diverse and culturally responsive group of trained child welfare professionals for the 21st-century workforce. NCWWI Traineeship Projects involve 12 schools of social work and are promoting evidence-informed curricula, innovations in course work/field units, and co-curricular learning and competency development. These programs are preparing more than 300 social work trainees in Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work programs for child welfare practice and leadership roles. Faculty experts bring their research and innovations to the cross-university learning community. Special focus is placed on trauma-informed practice, cultural humility, and racial disproportionality, as well as educational strategies to support the American Indian child welfare workforce.

  4. Sharing information for effective transfer of learning and workforce/leadership development.

    To address challenges associated with accessing, understanding, and applying new knowledge and information, NCWWI has developed a dissemination framework and is implementing a range of approaches to effectively share resources with more than 16,000 subscribers. Timely resources on workforce and leadership topics are housed in the Online Resource Library and summarized in overviews and one-page summaries. NCWWI has developed a master packet of online resources for 105 different child welfare hot topics to support participants’ implementation of change projects, as well as 31 comprehensive resource packets. Finally, NCWWI offers webinars and teleconferences for peer network program participants, distributes quarterly updates to the field, and hosts a popular national webinar series, What Works for the Workforce: Leadership Competencies in Action, showcasing workforce innovations and the skills and action steps necessary to support, implement, and sustain them. All these resources and more can be found at MyNCWWI.org


This publication represents a collaborative effort by the partners of the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI): University at Albany; University of Denver; Fordham University; University of Iowa; University of Maryland; Michigan State University; University of Michigan; Portland State University; and University of Southern Maine.

Individuals within the partnership greatly assisted with the review of this document. A very special thank-you to Freda Bernotavicz, Katharine Cahn, Nancy Dickinson, Sharon Kollar, Nancy McDaniel, Deborah Reed, Sara Munson, and Cheryl Williams-Hecksel for your clever ideas and insightful comments.

Many other individuals assisted with the designing and editing of the document. A special acknowledgement to Melissa Thompson at the Butler Institute for her design magic, and to Ann Moralez and Robyn Alsop for their eagle editing eyes. Thanks also to Rea Gibson and Sara Munson for their design/formatting assistance.

The NCWWI is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau, Award No. 90CT0145. Special thanks to Randi Walters, Children’s Bureau project officer, and to Robert Lindecamp, child welfare program specialist (CB/ICF), for their support.

Principal Author:

Charmaine Brittain, MSW, PhD, Butler Institute for Families, University of Denver, Graduate School of Social Work


Recommended Citation:

National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (2013). Learning and living leadership: A tool kit. Albany, NY: Author.

Copyright © 2013 by the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, New York.

This document may be reproduced in whole or in part without restriction as long as the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute is credited for the work. Upon request, contents of this document will be made available in alternate formats to serve accessibility needs of persons with disabilities.