Insights into CME Strategic Leadership: Reflections from Industry Leaders

By: Jill Erikson, MPH, RD; Andrea Harshman, MHA, CHCP, CMP-HC; Debra Janiszewski; Pamela Mason, BS, CHCP, FACEHP; Sue McGuinness, PhD, CHCP; Rejean Rochette; and Gail Triggs, MS


Organizations within CME/CE industry need leaders of all styles at all levels to evolve along with the healthcare landscape. Leaders are responsible for supporting or developing quality programs, but becoming a leader is often easier said than done. While exciting, the process of sifting through the plethora of leadership development resources available via websites, books and social media may be daunting. Fortunately, a cadre of leaders within our profession has compiled the best advice and current research for you.

Today, it is believed that great leaders are the product of their environment, applied training and personal focus, in contrast to the historical thinking that certain leaders were genetically predisposed to greatness.

Start at the Beginning

Before continuing with this article, take a moment to identify traits that you associate with good leadership. Determine what leadership means to you.

We did the same thing and identified the characteristics of: authenticity; effective communicating; innovative; strategic; using emotional intelligence; humility; transparent; respectful; creates a client culture; responsive; empathetic; inspiring; creates a fun culture; leading by example; listens; fair; demonstrates integrity; courageous; collaborative; curious; ambitious; and passionate.

Assessing and Developing Skills

After forming your list, take it a step further and evaluate which and how many of those traits you possess. Or, look to one of the many available standardized self-assessments (see the resources at the end of this article for an abbreviated list) to discern your leadership personality and strengths.

We were intrigued by a self-assessment that focused on 16 different leader competences, organized in five groups titled:

  • Character
  • Personal capability
  • Getting results
  • Leading change
  • Interpersonal skills

Note the similarity to those key traits we highlighted earlier.1


The premise is to develop skills that complement what you already do best. Each competency has up to a dozen competency components. By strengthening skills associated with components of a competency, you strengthen the competency as a whole.

Throughout our group, personal leadership stories were diverse, insightful and spoke to the personal leadership journey we’ve each undertaken. Some of those stories are below in hopes that one or more will resonate with you and provide the encouragement you need as you continue on your journey to becoming a leader in your organization and the CME/CE industry.

Accidental vs. Aspirational

by Andrea Harshman

Leadership was not something I aspired for, but was more of something that came about by accident. In retrospect, I worked hard and sincerely cared about the work I was doing. Believing in the importance of and the opportunities in medical education, I remained engaged in the work I did and with the people I shared it. Most importantly, I stayed curious.

I started as a meeting planner, and instead of focusing solely on logistics, I looked beyond that to understand why we were holding this or that specific educational activity. What were we trying to accomplish? How could we make it better?


I worked to become a Certified Meeting Professional, a Certified Healthcare CPD Professional, and earned a master’s degree in health administration, all with the intention to better my work, not to move up a ladder. When the opportunity presented itself, I was able to step into the role of director because my experience, passion and professional relationships had readied me.

I never stopped asking: Are the programs we develop making a difference? Are physicians learning? Are we meeting healthcare provider needs?

Keeping a focus on effective programs and outcomes and continuing to have fun while doing it was my leadership path, whether I knew it or not.

Networking and Connectivity

by Jill Erikson

Over time, I have learned I am responsible for my own development (leadership and career) but doing it alone is not an option. It’s more fun, rewarding and effective to have coaches, mentors and sponsors.

Building connections within and outside of our organizations has been critical to leadership development and identifying, improving and bringing forward impact to the business and, in our case, quality of care for patients.

Early in my pharmaceutical career, I connected with a leader in our company who ultimately mentored me to find a path to medical affairs, introduced me to CME and eventually became my manager. Initially, I did not think intentionally about how getting to know her better could help me develop. My manager at the time knew my strengths, my hopes for the future and encouraged me to be purposeful about nurturing and growing that connection. These colleagues have each been valuable coaches, mentors and sponsors to me over the past 18 years.

Recently, I have become acutely aware of how important and rewarding networking and building connections is both in and outside of our own organization and industry. During a 12-month leadership development program for women built on the pillars of education, networking and mentorship, I learned how we all experience similar leadership challenges but have unique perspectives and solutions. By interviewing executives within and outside of my own organization about their leadership development, I acquired nuggets and feedback from each of them and built relationships that have resulted in further business discussions and actual shared projects. Having an external network was critical for a truly safe environment for feedback, learning, professional development and support.

Lastly, volunteering, such as on this panel, has afforded me opportunities to connect with a diverse group of leaders, gain insight and reflect on my own leadership journey. Serving on Alliance committees will allow you to connect with a diverse group of people who provide multiple perspectives and offer opportunity for professional and leadership growth.

Leadership Role Insights

by Rejean Rochette

Leadership is a privilege and an important responsibility, whether you have been involved in leadership position for many years or whether in a new role.


Below are some of the lessons that I was lucky enough to realize and apply.

  • Leadership is not relegated to title or structure; everyone can and should demonstrate leadership.
  • Good values and authenticity are often more important than technical leadership/expertise.
  • Leadership is not complicated, but it can be complex because you deal with people.
  • Never mistake leadership with the need or requirement to know it all or be the technical expert. Leadership is about surrounding yourself with people who are much smarter than you, that have better and different expertise than you, and who can eventually replace you.
  • Lead by example. Actions are much stronger than words.
  • Leadership should not be relegated or simply about your “business segment or expertise.” Provide leadership outside of your unit, outside the organization and within your industry.
  • Leadership is not an event; it is a constantly evolving and learning process.
  • Make it fun! Fun is productive and
  • Always own your mistakes. You will make a lot of them.
  • As a leader, you should always be happy about what you do, but never satisfied about how you do it. It is indeed a never ending, but very fulfilling quest.
  • Leadership has its privileges: working for, and learning from, various people is one of them.

Team-Based Strengths

by Debra Janiszewsk

I appreciate the importance of setting and reaching goals and celebrating successes. In our day-to-day work, we are often focused on goals and achievements. We work on our own, in teams and across our organizations to meet goals for items such as managing budgets, developing programs, recruiting participants, and collecting outcomes data and reporting results.

It’s helpful to understand where we fall short and how we can improve. However, recently while working within teams, I have begun to reflect on how we tend to view and recognize co-workers and team members based on their achievements while neglecting to recognize their strengths and other positive characteristics that contribute to their work. Taking just a little bit of time away from meetings, tasks, timelines and projects (as important as they are) to better understand our team members and the strengths, skills and styles they bring to projects can be a valuable experience.

I encourage colleagues to learn about and discuss their team members’ strengths; to cherish a diversity of experiences, strengths and work styles; and to view our work as an opportunity to build on our varied strengths to advance healthcare education.

Small Changes, Big Effects

by Pam Mason

Clear, consistent and open communication is one of the most powerful tools in a leader’s toolbox. You have a choice to either let communication randomly happen or to engage in meaningful, deliberate communication.

One of the stories in my journey related to the idea of executive presence. A facilitator in a leadership course once made a comment that resonated strongly with me: that I was my own distraction at times. She suggested that I think about the act of entering the room as a part of the presentation.

It was a simple suggestion that I took to heart. I changed how I approached entering a room before giving any presentation, perhaps most importantly to a small group of senior leaders. This small change had a big effect. It was well worth modifying my behavior because I wanted people to listen to what I had to say.

Identify a change you can make or an action you can take that might have an impact. Other examples of small changes that can impact are:

  • Dressing differently
  • Joining a Toastmasters group
  • Using power phrases such as “I have a solution …”, “I recommend we do the following” and “There are three key takeaways
  • Each day is an opportunity to positively impact and inspire those around you by making a small change. The possibilities are limitless. Communicate your leadership.


1Zenger JH, Folkman JR and Edinger SK. Spotlight on Talent: Making Yourself Indispensable. Harvard Business Review. October 2011. HBR.ORG


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