High Potential DSPs Successfully Complete Leadership Program

Posted on September 1, 2021

By Jen Skelly, Director of PA Programs

For years, I have been mulling over what a groundbreaking Professional Development Program could look like at Penn-Mar. Now I know!

This is an organization that craves learning, promotes from within and was the first to latch onto and implement the NADSP Career Ladders program that has helped so many of our Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) earn their certification and additional compensation for their efforts. 

Gina Brelesky, our former Director of Learning & Development and now a Learning and Development consultant, created a leadership development curriculum and philosophy for Penn-Mar that became mandatory for any team members about to be promoted into supervisory or management positions. 

So when it came time to develop a program for our high potential DSPs to help them move successfully up the ranks at Penn-Mar, we again turned to Gina to use our current training program as a foundation and built on it to create a year-long leadership course that she conducted. 

In selecting the first cohort of participants, we looked for DSPs who consistently exemplified leadership and problem-solving skills. There were no financial incentives attached to the completion of this training and participants would ultimately invest over 40-plus hours throughout the 12-month program reading books, participating in coaching sessions, watching videos and completing homework and testing.  

Participants were counseled to “know yourself first with intensive self-reflection,” while completing the four study areas below to smooth the transition into a successful leadership role. 

Emotional Intelligence (EI): An addition to Penn-Mar’s core Professional Development Program, participants were taught how to assess their EI and develop strategies to become more aware of, control, and express their emotions, in order to better handle interpersonal relationships.  

DISC Assessment: Next, using a personal assessment tool, they were asked to define their style when dealing with people: (D)ominance, (I)nfluence, (S)teadiness, (C)onsciousness. Depending on the results, they focused on specific strategies to improve their interactions with others. 

Effective Management Concepts: This module addressed relationship development, effective communications and coaching skills.  

Reality-Based Leadership: Using the philosophy and training solutions of author Cy Wakeman, participants learned how to incorporate innovation and collaboration (two of Penn-Mar’s core values) into the work environment to eliminate drama and discord. 

I am delighted to report that nine of the original 12 outstanding participants graduated from the program in July. They included: 

  • Maricel Border 
  • Michal Edmondson 
  • Amanda Glenney  
  • Maurice Redmond 
  • Soumbouth Seng 
  • Lindsay Shafer 
  • Jason Smith 
  • Kayla Stephenson  
  • Alexa Wheeler 

Three of the DSP graduates from Pennsylvania and two in Maryland were promoted into supervisory roles during the course of the 12-month program.

After assuming her management role, graduate Alexa Wheeler said, “The program helped me work through my own insecurities as a leader and build my confidence…. I am no longer a ‘reluctant leader’ as I was when I started the class. After a year of growth and development, I can confidently say that I am working to lead and support my team well and encourage them each-and-every-day to support each other and the individuals that we serve.”  

Soumbouth Seng, whose patience was tested numerous times after becoming a Residential Supervisor this year, chose to concentrate on how to manage her work and personal life without being overwhelmed. “My biggest saying to myself is ‘Never let work WORK you.’ I realize now that I am not in this alone. I have a support system!  There were so many ‘ah ha’ moments during this training. I will forever cherish the program and take it with me wherever I go.” 

Our next Professional Development Program will begin in October. Congratulations to our outstanding program graduates and special thanks to our incredible training team!