Executive Director's Column

The Importance of Leadership

APA's new science-based initiative - Psychological Science for the 21st Century - will serve as the vehicle for hosting an annual Science Leadership Conference.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

Earlier this month, I attended my first APA Division Leadership Conference (DLC). This is an annual meeting, convened every year by the Committee on Division/APA Relations (CODAPAR). The DLC is an orientation session for incoming leaders of the APA divisions. The goals are to:

  • Assist participants in developing strategies to lead their divisions

  • Provide participants with information on how to bring division leadership and influence into APA

  • Assist participants in their development as individual leaders

  • Foster interdivisional collaborative ventures

  • Increase the effectiveness and organization of divisions

  • Provide resources and information relevant to divisions

  • Foster long-range and strategic planning within divisions

A key feature of the conference was a set of breakout sessions in which division leaders met in small groups with the staff of APA Directorates and Offices. The sessions with the Science Directorate were incredibly productive and helpful. These discussions brought into focus many of the problems and opportunities that the science-oriented divisions of APA are most concerned about.

One of the areas of greatest concern is the climate surrounding Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). It is clear that many researchers are experiencing difficulties with their local IRBs, and they view these difficulties as a real threat to the psychological research enterprise. Another source of concern centers on federal funding for psychological research. Between changes in the organization of NIH institutes and funding cuts at NSF, NASA, and elsewhere, scientists are clearly worried about their ability to cover the costs of their research.

The Division leaders also talked about the ubiquitous problems of APA: the ongoing tension between science and practice, the cost and value of APA membership, the importance of understanding and supporting the needs of junior members of the profession, and how to better communicate the value of psychological science to the public and to policy makers. These kinds of discussions are very important. They help bring into focus the needs of the discipline, and they provide direction to those who are in a position to do something about it. Division leaders bring to the table the concerns of their members, along with their own considerable experience and insights. APA Directorates bring to the table a host of resources and an able staff.

The Division Leadership Conference offers a small preview of what scientific leadership can do for our discipline. If we had more time, we could develop these discussions into concrete action plans. If we could bring to the table additional stakeholders, we could represent the needs and the dreams of still more of our science. If we could enlist the expertise of those who better know the worlds of federal regulations, policy making, or media relations, we could arm ourselves with the tools and the knowledge for getting more things done.

We have good news to greet the new year: APA's new science-based initiative - Psychological Science for the 21st Century - will serve as the vehicle for hosting an annual Science Leadership Conference. The first conference is being planned now for the first week of December 2005. Science leaders will convene to pick up where the Division Leadership Conference leaves off. It will offer an opportunity for the science leadership of psychology to develop an agenda and a plan for action; it will foster the development of science networks; and it will create a forum for the development of new program ideas in service of psychological science.

APA offers vast resources to support the science of psychology. The Divisions, Boards, and Committees of APA provide the means for harnessing those resources and for growing them. What we need now is a clear agenda for our science to guide and to lead us in the most productive direction. That is what leadership on a grand scale can do for us, and that is what we will now have.