Running Commentary

One of the most crucial tasks I had during my first year as CEO was recruiting a new executive director for science. Getting the right person for this job was of the utmost importance for APA and the field of psychology.

Our four directorates--Practice, Education, Public Interest and Science--form the substantive foundation for the association and for psychology. They represent the pillars on which the things we do are built, and therefore we must ensure that each of these interlocking and complementary areas has strong and competent leadership.

The destinations and the driver

Another way of thinking about the APA directorates is that they represent some critical "destinations" for the enterprise of psychology. The directorates, along with our efforts in publications, public communications and public policy (which are actually subsumed in the directorates), denote areas where the field wants to have an impact. Arguably, science is not only one of the destinations but is also a principal "driver" that helps us get to the other destinations.

Our impressive advances in assessment and treatment of mental illnesses and other health problems, and our many successes in health promotion and disease prevention, in the field of education, in public policy, and in the understanding of behavior, cognition, and emotions, all have their basis in psychological science. Our science provides the main substance of our journal articles and press releases and allows us to advocate more effectively in the policy arena.

Although psychologists work in a myriad of settings and have diverse responsibilities, it is our scientific training that sets us apart from many other health and mental health-related disciplines. It is one of our calling cards. So, as the premier psychological organization in the world, we must have an unparalleled presence in the domain that is a main driver of the field--psychological science.

A perfect fit

In searching for a new executive director for science, there were many characteristics I was looking for and which I knew would be difficult to find in one person. I was looking for someone with strong managerial skills and a record of successful managerial experience. I wanted someone with experience working with a diverse staff--who was comfortable with a democratic leadership style, where input and advice from subordinates was sought and valued.

The person had to have experience in creating and following through on a new vision for an organizational unit. Although never a certainty, I wanted someone who would consider a commitment to a longer rather than shorter tenure as executive director in order to give the directorate some leadership stability. And, of course, the person had to have broad interests in and understanding of psychological science, and a high level of scientific credibility, either as an active scientist, science administrator or science organization leader.

Based on the aforementioned criteria, I could not have found a better fit for the job than Dr. Steven Breckler (see page 24 for an interview on his plans). Dr. Breckler has had an active and distinguished career as a social, cognitive and neuroscience researcher at Johns Hopkins University. Most recently, he has held various administrative posts at the National Science Foundation, including as program director for social psychology; coordinator of the Cognitive, Psychological, and Language Sciences Cluster; program director for the Science of Learning Centers; and acting director of the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences.

Beyond his "on paper" qualifications as a scientist, administrator and manager, Dr. Breckler is widely recognized for his character and integrity. One of the people who recommended Dr. Breckler for the job said it best in a letter to me:

"[Dr. Breckler] has been praised virtually universally for his outstanding personal qualities, for his fair-mindedness, thoughtfulness, energy, thoroughness, and integrity, and for his kindness in dealings with scientists at all stages of their professional careers. Dr. Breckler would bring to APA and the position...both a fresh and cutting-edge vision for the advancement of psychological science in the 21st century and also a talent for working collaboratively and productively with the many other voices and perspectives within APA. His eloquence in advocating successfully for the psychological science at NSF suggests that he would do well in the many roles that this position entails.

"I also have no doubt that you would personally enjoy his contributions to your management team--from the vigor of his vision to his generosity and team spirit. I am confident that you and others within APA governance would find him a valued collaborator, a boundless source of ideas and activity, and a genial presence."

A perfect fit indeed. Welcome aboard Steve!