Leadership Academy Implementation Guide

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Welcome to the Leadership Academy 
Implementation Guide

The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) Leadership Academy (Leadership Academy or Academy) is designed to build and support the critical leadership skills  child welfare supervisors, managers, and directors need to be successful. This guide leverages NCWWI’s extensive experience implementing the Academy in diverse organizations using multiple training formats to support organizations explore, plan, implement, evaluate, and sustain the Academy. While NCWWI developed the Leadership Academy for use in human services organizations, other educational and training programs can also adapt and utilize the curriculum.

When organizations implement the Leadership Academy as designed, learners become nimble leaders able to identify and tackle technical and adaptive challenges, address systemic barriers, and institute sustainable, equitable solutions that pave the way for positive organizational change.

The Leadership Academy takes approximately 18-20 months to implement start to finish and is a significant organizational investment. Extensive evaluation findings from 2009-2024 show that the Academy consistently yielded positive outcomes including high participant satisfaction, significant knowledge gains, robust learning transfer support, and significant increases in leadership behaviors. This data shows the effectiveness of implementing the Academy to fortify your organization’s leadership pipeline, ensuring your workforce is equipped to champion a brighter future for the children and families we serve. While we recommend utilizing the entire Academy for optimal results, we recognize that organizations have budgetary and time constraints. Nevertheless, incorporating any component of the Academy has valuable individual and organizational benefits.

This guide is divided into six (6) sections. Each section contains downloadable templates, forms, documents, and other resources to support Academy implementation.

  1. Overview: Summary of the Leadership Academy components
  2. Planning: Step-by-step preparation guidelines, complete with timeline and proven strategies for successful implementation
  3. Trainers and Facilitators: Access to customizable curriculum, along with materials for Training of Trainers and Training of Coaches
  4. Coaching: Recruitment, selection, matching, training, and evaluation
  5. Participants: Selection and preparation tools
  6. Assessments: Methods to assess leadership skills

Overview Video

The following video provides an overview of the Leadership Academy, and the investment programs needed to implement it.

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Leadership Academy Overview

The Leadership Academy develops leaders committed to fostering equitable and positive organizational climates and driving sustainable change. Leaders engage in behaviors that collectively inspire, motivate, and guide child welfare professionals to safeguard children, support family permanency, and enhance child well-being. These behaviors are articulated in the NCWWI Leadership Competency Framework (Framework), a competency model of the knowledge and skills that collectively represent a leader’s approach. The Framework serves as a model to develop, guide, and evaluate leadership at all levels of an organization.

Leadership Academy Structure

Academy participants complete asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities enhanced by leadership development coaching. The modularized curriculum provides explanations and opportunities to apply concepts that reinforce the leadership fundamentals, along with the four quadrants of the NCWWI Leadership Competency Framework (Change, Context, Results, and People). The Academy model includes five online modules and corresponding in-person or virtual participant materials (curriculum available in Trainers and Facilitators tab). Each module includes:

  • Asynchronous online learning
  • Synchronous learning content delivered in person or virtually to role-specific cohorts of 10-25 supervisors, managers, or directors

The Leadership Academy curriculum uses a problem-based, flipped classroom learning format that is based on adult learning principles. Leadership Academy participants: 

  • Engage in scenarios and situation-based activities designed to facilitate critical thinking 
  • Are encouraged to collaborate and promote teamwork 
  • Foster a safe learning environment

Participant Preparation

Before synchronous learning, participants complete preparation activities, which include:

  • Three online foundation modules: Foundations of Leadership and Workforce Development Parts I and II
  • Exploring a change project (see planning tab) aligned with workforce priorities that allows participants to practice and develop their skills
  • Engaging in two or three pre-training Readiness Coaching sessions (see coaching tab)
  • Completing assessments your organization selects, such as the 360° Assessment or CliftonStrengths (see assessment tab)


The Leadership Academy equips participants with the essential skills to navigate  a “whitewater” work environment and anticipate challenges. Effective leaders understand the importance of communicating a compelling vision, charting a course for continuous organizational development, and bolstering workforce training to enhance outcomes. Participation enables leaders to develop skills to manage both aspects of leadership ‒ vision and reality ‒ and practice the resiliency to stand in the tension between the two.  The Academy can also be a powerful strategy to support organizational systems, workgroups, and critical processes such as CFSR, workforce retention, and succession planning.

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Leadership Academy Planning

Many considerations go into an organization’s decision to deliver and integrate the Leadership Academy. Your organization must include time for exploration and planning from the outset to ensure the Academy is successful and sustainable. Planning considerations include:

  • Creating a planning team and identify the overarching goal
  • Assessing your organizational capacity to implement and sustain the Academy
  • Developing your participant selection approach
  • Developing a communication plan for organizational engagement and buy-in
  • Determining the delivery method and training platform
  • Selecting and training trainers and coaches
  • Selecting assessments your organization wants to use to complement learning
  • Customizing the change project approach
  • Planning for evaluation

Please take a moment to review the information in this high-level Leadership Academy Overview PowerPoint presentation for additional context on the Leadership Academy as you continue your exploration and planning.

Planning Team

We encourage organizations to create a Leadership Academy planning team that will work to identify the organization’s overarching goal in implementing the Academy and will take the lead in tracking and implementing the Academy components. A Logic Model is a tool that can support the team’s work. It provides high-level visualization of your overarching goal along with planning action steps and outcomes of implementing the Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy Planning Timeline (Excel) and the Leadership Academy Logistics Timeline Template (Word) can help guide your planning for the coaching, training, and participant components. You can adjust timeline dates based on your organization’s schedule and planning.

Organizational Capacity

Some things to consider when your organization is determining its capacity to deliver the Leadership Academy include:

  • How can implementing the Academy support other organizational initiatives and priorities? What are the current demands on the workforce and the system?
  • What staff members are available to serve as trainers, coaches (including certified coach(es) to deliver the Virtual Coaching Learning Program (VCLP), and IT support?
  • Is funding available to support the planning, delivery, and evaluation?
  • What supports and/or resources are necessary for participants to fully engage?
  • Is there executive level buy-in, engagement, and support?


NCWWI advises organizations to develop a robust communication strategy to inform and prepare leaders, supervisors, implementation staff, and participants. Effective communication builds trust and excitement to secure buy-in, active involvement, and the resources necessary for successful Academy implementation and sustainability. It also ensures participants and their supervisors understand this valuable leadership development program’s time commitment, activities, and expectations.

Along with the Leadership Academy Logistics Timeline Template, a communication plan is a tremendously helpful tool for organizing and monitoring the planning team’s efforts. The planning team will identify the audiences they want the communications to reach, how they will deliver the communications, when they will deliver them, and with what frequency. The message may change based on the intended audience, i.e., messages to secure executive-level buy-in will be different than messages recruiting coaches or participants.

Delivery Method and Training Platform

The Leadership Academy offers versatile delivery options, with materials tailored for both virtual and in-person sessions. Detailed instructions for organizations to maximize participant engagement and learning for the format they choose are provided in the training materials.

If your organization is considering virtual delivery, it is important to know that the curriculum is modified and condensed due to shorter attention spans and the need for greater interaction (asking questions, pointing to a PowerPoint slide, using the chat box or whiteboard, breaking into small groups, etc.). Therefore, learners will engage in a little more prework and homework to obtain the same skill development through virtual learning. Other considerations for virtual delivery include:


The Leadership Academy recommends using assessments to facilitate participants’ leadership self-awareness and working with teams. Please review the Assessment tab for details, including which modules you will need to customize to fit the assessment your organization chooses.

  • What virtual meeting platform* does the organization currently use?
  • Will additional technology training be required for trainers or participants?
  • What can the organization’s IT system support?

*NCWWI recommends using Zoom for its flexibility, but instructions in the trainer materials apply to other platforms with similar features.

Change Project

The change project is a critical Leadership Academy tool for hands-on learning. Applying new learning to work is an essential element of adult learning, and change projects provide a structured way to do this. Developing change projects helps participants become increasingly comfortable with the process of change – a process they can use whenever they identify an area in their work that needs transformation. Change projects also connect the workforce to the organization’s mission and reveal the barriers to sustainable change in the organization’s infrastructure, communication strategies, and decision-making protocols. Participants will develop a change project they will work on throughout their time in the Leadership Academy with the approval of their supervisor and support from their coach, beginning in pre-training Readiness Coaching and continuing through the Leadership Academy and Post-Coaching.

Your organization will need to customize the instructions on the Change Project Worksheet to identify your organization’s change project focus areas and parameters for participants as they explore, plan, design, and implement their change projects.

What kinds of change projects have people worked on?

Change Project Examples

What does a completed change project worksheet look like?

Quan’s Change Project Worksheet

Engaging Youth With Opportunities Change Project Worksheet


Conducting an evaluation of your organization’s implementation of the Academy can be beneficial for:

  • Understanding its impact on participants’ leadership development 
  • Collecting information that will allow you to better tailor the Academy to meet your organization’s needs
  • Improving and effectively replicating the Academy for subsequent participants

The Leadership Academy Evaluation Guide provides an overview of evaluation activities and resources you can use to evaluate your delivery of the Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy Pre-Training Survey and Leadership Academy Post-Training Survey are discussed at length in the guide.

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Leadership Academy Trainers and Facilitators



To successfully deliver the Leadership Academy, organizations need to understand the curriculum design. The Academy is designed to be co-facilitated (two or more trainers) and the trainers should possess specific trainer competencies.

As you plan for the selection of trainers, consider your organization’s capacity to use internal trainers or external trainers and how to best build sustainability for your organization to deliver the Academy to future cohorts. Ideally, all trainers will be present for the delivery of each synchronous classroom session to:

  • Enhance relationship-building between trainers and between trainers and participants
  • Deepen their understanding of the Leadership Academy as a whole
  • Enhance continuity of learning across modules, i.e., the ability to build on participant discussion from one module to the next

If trainers do not have the time or capacity to be present for all modules, we recommend that the lead trainer be present for all modules for consistency and continuity.


The trainer’s role during sessions is to facilitate, coach, support, and reinforce participants’ application of the leadership concepts and topics they are initially introduced to during the asynchronous online modules. Once trainers and facilitators (coaches too if possible) are selected, follow the below steps to maximize their exposure to the curriculum and deepen their understanding and knowledge of the concepts.

  1. Conduct a Trainer Leadership Academy Orientation
  2. Provide a Trainer’s Planning and Implementation Timeline
  3. Have everyone complete the asynchronous online modules and review the curriculum materials (specific to the delivery your organization is utilizing, virtual or in person, as the synchronous sessions are slightly different for the two formats)
  4. Host a Leadership Academy Curriculum Walk Through

To facilitate improvements in trainer preparation for subsequent cohorts, organizations should utilize a Trainer’s Orientation and TOT Curriculum Walk Through Survey to tailor training and support to your organization’s needs.



Lead Trainer Support Role

Ideally, a lead trainer will coordinate support for coaches throughout the Leadership Academy, including for pre-training Readiness Coaching, Leadership Academy Coaching and Post-Coaching. This creates consistent communication between training and coaching support. The lead trainer may decide to co-lead with the certified/lead coach who delivered the Virtual Coaching Learning Program (VCLP) for specific coaching skill enhancement. The Leadership Academy Coaching Guide is a helpful tool in supporting coaches and an important resource for trainers and facilitators too.

It is important to schedule a monthly support call with coaches. We recommended that early on these are group calls with all the coaches to maximize group learning. You may decide to rotate or supplement these group calls with individual support calls as needed. Support calls with coaches follow the same continuum of support as the one coaches use with Leadership Academy participants: more prescriptive and directive during pre-training Readiness Coaching as reflected in the Training Readiness Support Agendas. Leadership Academy Coaching and Post-Coaching calls are less directive and more facilitative in nature and can cover a variety of topics, issues, and successes as reflected in the Monthly Support Topics for Leadership Academy Coaching and Post-Coaching.

It is important to keep in mind confidentiality when you are supporting coaches in a group setting. If you are using a platform like Zoom, coaches can send a private chat to the facilitator who can speak to the specific example or question, without revealing the participant’s identity; this maximizes opportunities for group learning while respecting participant privacy. Alternatively, the facilitator may request that coaches send in questions in advance of the support call to ensure confidentiality in the discussion. When needed, the facilitator should schedule a private session with the coach to speak more freely. 

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Leadership Academy Coaching Program

Coaching is a research-based and critical component of successfully implementing the Leadership Academy. 

The Leadership Academy Coaching Program integrates best-practice coaching competencies approved by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) to help participants engage in transfer of learning activities, ongoing leadership skill development, and guidance to support the successful integration of their change projects.

The Leadership Academy Coaching Program is designed to coach the “whole” person and help participants can get the most out of the Leadership Academy and become more effective leaders. The coaches encourage, support, and guide Leadership Academy participants to exercise their leadership skills in a safe and nurturing environment. The leadership coach will assist the learner with the integration and application of the necessary skills required to advance positive systems change.

Throughout the Leadership Academy participants, receive developmental coaching*  from a leadership coach. The coaching program consists of three coaching phases:

  1. Pre-training Readiness Coaching: 2 to 3 sessions prior to synchronous learning
  2. Leadership Academy Coaching: 45-60 minute monthly sessions during Academy delivery (one session for each module; 5 total)
  3. Post-Academy Coaching: 4 to 6 sessions after the completion of training delivery
*Developmental Coaching: coaches the whole person; focuses on raising awareness of thoughts, assumptions, mindsets, beliefs, values, and emotions that drive actions and behaviors; and focuses on the process and underlying aspects that influence behavior (values, beliefs, mindset) not just the outcome and skill development (which is performance coaching).



Key considerations to developing the coaching component of the Academy include recruiting, training, matching, and supporting coaches and participants as outlined in the Coaching Planning and Delivery Timeline

Your organization must give careful consideration to who you recruit as coaches and where you focus your recruitment efforts (i.e., within or outside of your organization or department). If you identify certified/lead coach(es) early in the planning process, they may be able to inform and support coach recruitment, selection, and matching. Be sure to prepare information for recruitment and selection that includes a coach description (a coach description is beneficial to communicate the expectations for and responsibilities of a coach), coaching essentials, time commitment, a training and support overview, and a Leadership Academy overview.

As you consider your organization's in-house capacity to recruit coaches or your options for finding external coaches, take a moment to review the Leadership Academy Coaching Guide, section 2, which provides criteria on important coaching essentials.

Other things to consider for coach recruitment, selection, and matching include:

      • Preparing to be a Leadership Academy coach requires an initial investment of time. Leadership coach participation spans approximately 9-12 months per coaching cohort, along with the additional initial investment of 3 months of foundational coaching training. 
      • Due to the organizational investment in training and supporting coaches, along with their personal investment, we suggest asking coaches to serve two Leadership Academy cohorts during recruitment. This is crucial to capacity-building and sustainability discussions.
      • Some organizations that have implemented the Leadership Academy focused heavily on recruiting coaches internally, and others found coaches through partnerships with universities and other supporting departments like human resources, offices of diversity, etc.
      • You may find it works better to have a committee nominate and select a cadre of coaches, or your organization may decide to have potential coaches participate in an application process (sample application).
      • Ideally you will have one coach per participant to help ensure the coach’s availability and capacity through all three phases of coaching, since this responsibility is typically in addition to their regular workload.
      • Once you have identified all participants and coaches, consider how you want to match the coach with the participant. Some things to consider include position within the organization, potential current or prior working relationship, individual characteristics and styles, etc. The aim here is to minimize barriers to establishing rapport and building the coaching relationship.

Once your organization has selected coaches, conduct a Leadership Academy Coaching Overview and Orientation to provide them context and on overview of the Academy and their role as a coach. It is important to communicate that, initially, coaches will have to invest a lot of time to complete training and become familiar with the curriculum concepts and materials. The Leadership Academy Coaching Guide is a valuable resource for coaches. The coaching guide:

  • Provides information on the purpose, definition, and rationale of coaching
  • Includes coaching essentials, coaching tools, and coaching resources for all three phases of coaching (readiness, academy, and post-coaching)
  • Has an appendix with case scenarios illustrating real coaching experiences

Getting familiar with the coaching guide, as well as ongoing communication and support from the lead trainer throughout all three phases, is critical in helping the organization and coaches make this significant component of the Leadership Academy a success.

Following the overview and orientation, coaches will participate in the Virtual Coaching Learning Program (VCLP) to learn the foundations of coaching. Ideally, the VCLP is co-facilitated by certified/lead coaches, and they are identified early in the planning process. This provides an opportunity for the certified/lead coach to:

  • Help inform the recruitment, selection, and matching process
  • Participate in an overview/orientation of the Leadership Academy with the coaches
  • Potentially co-facilitate the ongoing coaching support with the lead trainer/facilitator

To provide effective coaching and support transfer of learning from the Leadership Academy, coaches need curriculum content knowledge, including on the:

      • NCWWI Leadership Model
      • NCWWI Implementation Phases
      • Racial Equity, Inclusivity, and Biases
      • Adaptive Leadership
      • Strengths-Based Leadership
      • Daring Leadership
      • Transformational Leadership

Coaches need to review all curriculum materials including foundational modules and Leadership Academy modules along with participant and trainer synchronous materials. In addition to the Academy overview in the orientation and their own independent review of the material, coaches should participate in the training of trainers curriculum walk-through with Leadership Academy trainers to further their exposure to and understanding of the concepts. Additional opportunities to expand coaches’ understanding will be available in the monthly coach support sessions.

Just as coaches support participants through all three phases of coaching−pre-training Readiness Coaching, Leadership Academy Coaching, and Post-Academy Coaching−the lead trainer supports coaches through these three phases. As the participant progresses, the intent of the coaching shifts from preparing them for the best use of Leadership Academy training to the application of Leadership Academy training in the workplace, and, likewise, monthly support for coaches will progress through different phases as well.

Monthly support sessions with coaches should begin at the conclusion of the Virtual Coaching Learning Program and before coaches pre-training Readiness Coaching sessions with participants begin. In this first monthly support session, coaches may need assistance with timelines and logistics. For example, coaches will need to send an Introductory and Welcome Email to their assigned participants two weeks prior to scheduling their first pre-training Readiness Coaching session. Coaches may have some concerns about participant resistance to coaching. Coaching: Working with Resistance is a 16-minute eLearning module the lead trainer can share during the session and complement with a group discussion.

The level and type of support each coach needs may vary based on their skill level and/or any dynamics they have with their assigned participant. While a trainer can provide support individually, opportunities for group learning through the monthly support sessions will minimize time demands on the person providing the support. With group support sessions, holding participant confidentiality is primary. If monthly sessions are virtual, consider having coaches submit questions or issues through a private message so the facilitator can bring the issue to the discussion without identifying the coach or participant who asked it. If sessions are in person, consider having participants submit issues to the facilitator in advance. In some circumstances coaches will need one-on-one support to address specific concern(s).

As you plan for sustainability and replication of the coaching component of the Leadership Academy, getting feedback from coaches via evaluations of the training and support they received can be very useful. Virtual Coaching Learning Program SurveyCoaches Orientation and Curriculum Walk Through Survey, and Coaches Monthly Support Survey are helpful tools to collect this information. This feedback allows you to tailor training and support to your organization’s needs, improving preparation and implementation of the coaching component, which is critical to Leadership Academy effectiveness.

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Leadership Academy Participants

Recruitment and Selection

The Leadership Academy is designed for organizations to deliver to cohorts of professionals with similar job positions, i.e., regional directors, managers, or supervisors. During your organization’s exploration of and planning for the Leadership Academy, consider whether  you will select, nominate, or ask participants to apply. We recommend that organizations begin with cohorts of senior leaders or management staff who can disseminate their learning about the leadership framework and competencies throughout the organization’s middle management and supervisor levels. Some things to consider when you are deciding who will participate include:

    • Size of the cohort
    • Organizational capacity to identify and train coaches
    • Virtual or in-person delivery and frequency/duration of module delivery
    • Budget concerns, i.e., travel expenses, per diem, location
    • Process of selection, i.e., nomination, application, appointment
    • Marketing and communication to facilitate buy-in, promote, and inform
    • Current workforce priorities and implications for participant change projects
    • Needed supports to ensure time is available for full participation in the Leadership Academy and designing/implementing change projects

To generate interest in your organization and communicate what is involved in Leadership Academy participation, you may want to create an informational Leadership Academy Flyer or even a short video if you have the capacity and resources.


Planning for and delivering the Leadership Academy involves selection, notification, orientation, coaching, preparation tools, assessments, and delivery of the Leadership Academy modules. See the Overview tab for details.

Once participants are selected, send a Welcome Letter and conduct a Participant Leadership Academy Orientation to:

  • Provide an overview of the Leadership Academy components (see Planning tab)
  • Give instructions for accessing the three online Foundation Modules (Foundations of Leadership and Workforce Development Parts I and II) and other participant materials
  • Explain coaching’s purpose and value during the Academy
  • Review the Change Project Worksheet instructions and expectations (see Planning tab)
  • Explain any assessment and evaluation requirements (see Planning and Assessments tabs)

Organizations should consider how they match coaches with participants, especially if the organization is using internal staff as coaches. The coaching relationship is a vital component of the Leadership Academy and any effort to minimize potential barriers from the outset is recommended. To prepare participants to engage in Leadership Academy coaching, this 3-minute video: Coaching: What’s In It For Me? is embedded in the Leadership Academy Participation Orientation.

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Leadership Academy Assessments 

The stressful and ever-changing work of child welfare requires skilled and adaptable leaders. “To be an effective leader means to deeply reflect on events that surround oneself that have reference to how you see your own behavior and actions influencing others. To reflect means to know oneself, to be consistent with one’s self, and to have a positive and strengths-based orientation toward one’s development and the development of others” Leveraging Effective Practice (Avolio, 2005). 

The Leadership Academy curriculum includes two assessments to expand participants’ self-awareness as a leader. You will need to explore your organization’s capacity for implementing these two assessments as reflected in the Leadership Academy 360° Assessment and CliftonStrengths Assessment Planning and Delivery Timeline.

360° Assessment

NCWWI evaluators developed this assessment to complement NCWWI ‘s Leadership Competency Framework. It provides leaders with information on their workplace performance through self-reflection and feedback from supervisors, colleagues, and staff who work closely with them. This enhances their insight into how aligned they are with key constituents and provides avenues for leadership development and improvement. 

The 360° Assessment is designed to: 

  1. Allow managers to reflect on the leadership behaviors associated with the dimensions training will address.
  2. Enhance participants’ leadership development by highlighting areas they could focus on improving as they progress through the training.
  3. Move evaluation efforts beyond self-report measures of participants’ leadership knowledge and skills to gathering objective data from others, allowing for a more rigorous evaluation.

How results are communicated, and what mechanisms are in place to support participants’ learning and assistance, are important predictors of whether the 360° Assessment leads to continuous improvement efforts. Using the 360° Feedback Guidance for Coaches provided in the Coaching Guide, coaches can ensure participants understand the feedback, process their feelings about the feedback, and consider areas for development. 

There are costs associated with administering the NCWWI-specific 360° Assessment. Please contact the Butler Institute for Families Working Well Collaborative for additional information. 

An alternative to administering the 360° Assessment is using the Leadership Self-Assessment included in the NCWWI Leadership Development Toolkit. This assessment is based on the NCWWI Leadership Competency Framework and reflects the core competencies of being a successful leader. This is strictly a self-assessment and does not include the opportunity for feedback from others. 

Clifton-Strengths Assessment

Strengths-based leadership asserts that individuals gain more when they build on their greatest talents rather than when they try to correct their weaknesses. “The path to great leadership starts with a deep understanding of the strengths you bring to the table” (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 3). Enhancing your effectiveness as a leader involves the practice of investing in your strengths. 

The Academy recommends the CliftonStrengths assessment and references this work in the curriculum. Costs are associated with this assessment, so while it is recommended, it is not required. If your organization does not purchase CliftonStrengths or opts for a different assessment, you will need to customize some of the trainer curriculum materials to fit your assessment. Please review this example, Predictive Index in Fundamentals of Leadership, to see how one agency customized virtual delivery Leadership Academy materials to fit their assessment.

Alternative assessments are provided in the Leadership Academy Discovery Tools. These assessments provide opportunities for participants to deepen their self-awareness and inform their reflection on their leadership style and how their beliefs and behaviors impact others.