Leaders use social influence to realise goals bigger than what could be accomplished by any one person alone. 

Leadership contributions can be at micro, meso or macro levels within a field of practice, or wider society (Dunbar & Winston, 2015).

Leadership starts with leading self, then leading others, and then also navigating organisations and systems (Walker, Wilcox, Powell & Muir, 2017); a journey rather than a destination.

Why focus on leadership?

Practitioners working with displaced people are already in positions of leadership due to working within an emerging field of practice. This is characterised by a high probability that:

  • you’ll be the only occupational therapist within your team or organisation,
  • there will be few senior practitioners with comparable experiences to draw on, 
  • you’ll be leading colleagues, students, volunteers, community as part of your role. 

Therefore practitioners need to intentionally develop leadership skills rather than ‘falling into it’  (Heard, 2014).

There are few formal learning opportunities and mentoring for occupational therapists in less traditional areas of practice (Lapointe, Baptiste, vonZweck, & Craik, 2013), and practitioners may also need to un-learn socialised ideas of leadership (Davidson, 2012). 

Leadership within a field of practice

Many challenges experienced in occupational therapy practice (Murray, Turpin, Edwards & Jones, 2015) could be prevented or remediated with a stronger ecosystem of leadership within a field of practice.

Our field of practice needs to strengthen leadership till there are:

  • systems and supports for safe and ethical practices with displaced people,
  • practitioners who routinely contribute to strengthen the field of practice beyond their individual role,
  • capabilities and capacity to grasp strategic opportunities as a field of practice.

Ways to develop leadership

We can develop leadership everyday. Some suggestions are below.

Do you have a suggestion to help grow leadership? We’re listening!

Opportunities to assess:

Opportunities to learn: 

Opportunities to act:

  • Volunteer with the leaders in your National Occupational Therapy Association to learn from them.
  • Mentor someone to spark reflections and self-directed learning.
  • Share resources and your learnings to Leadership4OT on Facebook.


Davidson, H. (2012). A Leadership Challenge for Occupational Therapy. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75 (8), 390 – 392.

Dunbar, S. & Winston, K. (Eds). (2015). An Occupational Perspective on Leadership; Theoretical and practical dimensions (2nd Ed). New Jersey, NJ: Slack Incorporated.

Flemling-Castaldy, R. P., & Patro, J. (2012). Leadership in Occupational Therapy: Self-Perceptions of Occupational Therapy Managers. Occupational Therapy in Health Care, 26 (2-3), 187 – 202. 

Heard, C. (2014). Choosing the Path of Leadership in Occupational Therapy. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 2 (1), Article 2. 

Lapointe, J., Baptiste, S., vonZweck, C.M., & Craik, J.M. (2013). Developing the occupational therapy profession through leadership and mentoring- energizing opportunities. WFOT Bulletin, 68, 38 – 43.

Murray, C., Turpin, M., Edwards, I. &  Jones, M.  (2015). A qualitative meta-synthesis about challenges experienced in occupational therapy practice. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 78 (9), 534 – 546. 

Walker, A., Wilcox. T., Powell, A., & Muir, K. (2017). The Navigator: Your guide to leadership for social purpose. Sydney, Australia: The Centre for Social Impact.