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DCE Magazine

Preparing Human Services Professionals for Organizational Leadership

Winter 2020

Instructor Nikole Seals has an impressive breadth of professional experience managing the health and wellness of some of Southern California’s most at-risk communities and individuals.

As a California State University of Long Beach clinically trained social worker, Nikole launched her career with the County of Orange in their Child Protective Services unit, an experience that taught her to adapt under extreme circumstances and intense pressure.

Nikole’s family would say she has also been an educator from the age of seven, when her favorite activity was to play pretend classroom and take the role of teacher. This affinity for teaching is a driving force behind her development of UCI Division of Continuing Education's first course in human services management.

With over two decades of experience in the field of human services, Nikole has an acute understanding of the clinical and managerial demands placed on professionals in this industry. Health and human services organizations can be characterized as stressful settings, with budgetary uncertainty, heavy caseloads, and constantly evolving bureaucratic and regulatory procedures. Due to these pressures, it’s rare that clinicians are afforded the time and support to cultivate their own business leadership or managerial skills. The fact that a candidate for promotion may be an excellent practitioner does not always equate to success as a manager.

Quite often, social workers or human service coordinators move into management positions where their primary job duties have changed from direct advocacy to administrative tasks such as budget planning, performance management, and conflict resolution. UCI and Nikole’s goal is to provide practicing health and human services professionals with the training and knowledge necessary to advance their career while establishing sustainable management and leadership skills.

“… I love that I have been able to incorporate these passions into the work I have done teaching others.” Nikole Seals, Instructor

A community advocate

A Los Angeles native, Seals dealt with a cultural adjustment when her family moved south to Orange County before she started junior high school. Leaving what was a very diverse community and landing in a predominantly white neighborhood taught her how to be confident in spaces and situations that are uncomfortable. Nikole credits this experience as one of the main factors that equipped her to step into the particular line of work she chose in the field of human services.

Now an accomplished organizational leader, Seals dedicated the first ten years of her professional career to the County of Orange as a senior social worker, and then later as a clinical social worker. This challenging opportunity was offered as a component of her participation in CSULB’s California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) stipend program. The CalSWEC award Nikole received was provided through the federal government's Title IV-E funding; resources that are dedicated to child welfare training. This support and training from the university allowed Seals to jumpstart her career in a role that has shaped her into the person she is today.

“As a child protective services worker you manage high risk cases and have the immense responsibility of making judgement calls on not only the well-being of a child but also whether or not family members are going to stay together. I dealt with the fear of getting it wrong – and even a fear for the repercussions of getting things right.” Dealing with families in crisis meant that everyday held some sort of uncertainty and an evolving pace of work.

Nikole attributes some of her career success to the way she cared for herself during these challenging moments. The value of personal wellness is something she hopes to instill in future managers so they can mindfully support their staff through stressful situations or decision making.

“One of my personal beliefs about life is to really do the work you love and be passionate about it,” she adds, “I've also had a very strong drive for self-care. So, practicing holistic health, staying active, eating a really good diet, all of these things have become a part of who I am as a professional and I love that I have been able to incorporate these passions into the work I have done teaching others.”

As an instructor, Nikole will also equip her students with the communication skills required to set boundaries with staff while they simultaneously provide coaching and support to these practitioners who bear the intense emotional demands of the field.

Stepping into a new role

Through her journey, Seals noticed that a strong leadership culture was missing from the management ranks of a number of human service organizations she worked with. This void would complicate her work, making it more difficult to achieve the mission or goals of a program. A strong business case can also be made for creating an environment where employees feel recognized and supported since these conditions lower staff turnover and end some of the toxic behavior that affects service delivery. Sounds straight forward, but when a provider is operating at a high volume, incremental changes in culture can seriously impact the bottom line.

In Nikole's course, Human Services Management Essentials, students will discuss topics ranging from leadership emotional intelligence to recognizing personal bias. Offered online over six-weeks, the course is designed for professionals seeking a deeper understanding of the organizational challenges administrators face and the professional skills needed to be an effective human services manager.

“I am excited because I’ve gotten to watch the evolution of this field since I was a teenager,” she added. “The fact that there has been enormous growth has increased the need for a highly qualified workforce – people who can manage the demands of consumers and act on the opportunity to be an agent of change in someone else’s life.”

Learn more about Human Services Management.