A New Dawn for Leadership: The Supervisor Development Program at the Veterinary College
October 20, 2023
In today's dynamic work environment, the need for effective and empathetic leadership has never been greater.
Recognizing this, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine launched a pilot Supervisor Development Program to hone managerial skills and instill leadership qualities in a cohort of supervisors, especially within the busy veterinary hospital.
Chris Whitlock, a human resources generalist at the college, explained the driving forces behind the concept of this new program. "We noticed a plethora of new supervisors in the hospital. While there are many systems to understand and navigate, what is even more crucial is understanding the nuances of being a supervisor — from labor laws and time management to, most importantly, effective team leadership," explained Whitlock.
Garry Morgan, director of diversity, equity and inclusion in the Office of the Dean stated that supervisor training is critical for the effectiveness of an organization.
“Supervisors are often put in challenging situations of maintaining organizational priorities while being good to the people with whom they work. The sessions from the training program were designed to help supervisors navigate challenging moments by providing necessary practical skills,” said Morgan.
The program's goal went beyond just introducing new systems or protocols. "Our vision was to instill leadership qualities or abilities in this first cohort of supervisors,” Whitlock said. “We wanted them to be perceived as managers and leaders who can drive productivity, morale, communication, and teamwork."
Gary Lowery, assistant director of IT Operations, confirmed that the program had helped. "This course helped me understand my role as a supervisor so that I can better lead my team," said Lowery.
Katie Cross, director of advising in the Department of Population Health Sciences, also felt it enhanced her leadership. "The information in the course provided me with resources of where and who to turn to should I have a question. It also allowed me to reflect on my leadership and supervision style and approach."
Feedback on the content, online lessons, and overall usefulness was essential for the first cohort.
The program offered five distinct modules: Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading Teams, Leading Strategically, and Leading Intentionally. Each module is structured for 3-4 hours of online learning. The program also offers knowledge assessments and course projects, encapsulating the ethos of Virginia Tech's strategic aspirations: active learning and tackling real-world problems in a fail-friendly environment.
Maryann Cline, who joined the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center in 2019 and is an oncology technical team leader, said: “I thought it was very informative, enlightening and had really good content.”
The first cohort started in mid-April and ran for 12 weeks with monthly meetings, presentations, and projects.
But who is this new course designed for? Is it exclusively for supervisors? Whitlock's perspective is inclusive: "We don't want to label it just for managers or supervisors. It's for those who see a need for change around them and wish to lead that change, whether they currently lead people or aspire to in the future."
The diversity in the initial cohort — ranging from those managing large teams to those with no direct reports — is a testament to the program's broad appeal. Whitlock reflected: "It's about creating a community where we can reach out to each other, share experiences, and learn."
Cross reinforced this. "I genuinely enjoyed getting to know my colleagues in the college a bit more. It allowed me to increase my network of colleagues to turn to if I have a question or situation."
The program has the promise not just to be a learning experience for the participants but also to impact the broader college. As supervisors are equipped with these essential skills, the ripple effect on team productivity, morale, and overall organizational efficiency can be profound.
The Supervisor Development Program is not just another managerial course. It is an endeavor to help those in critical positions and who manage essential teams. As Whitlock aptly put it, "It's about people who want to see and make a change around them, to better everything around them."
The next program is due to start in early 2024, and interested candidates are urged to reach out to the human resources team at the college.