Years in Management: 5-10 years.
Degree/Institution: MSW/Fordham University.
Tell us about your path to management:
My path to management was quite natural as I was the eldest in my family; you learn very quickly that you are not only responsible for yourself but the safety and well-being of your younger siblings. Growing up in a single parent household I developed leadership skills that would serve me well in adulthood. Fast forward to my professional career I spent 15 years as a public servant. After receiving my Master Degree in Social Work, from Fordham University, I began to seek employment that would complement my education and experience. I was on the fast track, every year I was getting a promotion and surely if I kept that pace I would be senior management before long. Then my plan came crumbling down or at least that was what I thought at the time. The trajectory of my plans to senior leadership were halted, New York City (NYC) was in economic crisis and as I was about to make my next move all city jobs was put on hold. There would be no movement for almost five years. So I kept being a project manager and doing my job well, but fear of what was going on fiscally stunted my leadership momentum. It wasn’t until I was laid off that that I fully accepted that I was in fact a leader. The shaping of my leadership advanced most outside my comfort zone. With nothing to lose I was ready to take the challenge and seek managerial jobs once
again. It was in this uncomfortable state that I learned to thrive as a leader, leadership is grace under fire, and it’s an verb-all action!
What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals?
It’s my belief that vision, transparency, and effective communication will always be the most effective way in reaching organizational and career goals. No one is able to make it alone and no one wants to follow a visionless leader. Leaders who are confident and have direction can almost always have positive outcomes with their team. Most people appreciate being valued and welcome taking ownership to their piece of the project, providing meaning and significance to their work.
Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey?
I draw inspiration from so many people and typical to most my parents, teachers, and friends have always provided me with inspiration and support. Currently I’m most inspired by young people. The millennials are really gearing up to be the next set of leaders. I’m proud to have been an influence to that generation. My children serve as constant motivation and inspiration. It’s something about seeing someone live their life unapologetically that makes you want to do the same. I’m forever indebted to them for giving me the courage to take more risks and start my own organization.
What are you reading and/or following now?
On a daily basis I read Black Enterprise and Harvard Business Review. I also read, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Forbes, and Entrepreneur Magazine. I am currently finishing Principle Centered Leadership by Stephen R. Covey and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.
What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?
My top three words of advice for emerging leaders would be as follow:
1. Develop an entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurs' success is based on their relationships, their vision and their ability to think about what’s next.
2. Stop playing checkers, life is a chess game you have to think at least six moves ahead.
3. Surround yourself with people who will give you sound professional guidance.
Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?
I’m currently working with women of color and organizations around issues of diversity and inclusion. I’ve began doing exploratory research on the equity divide with women of color in leadership roles in non-profits. I’m looking to partner with organizations or other social workers that are interested in this topic.
Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.
Fear can be crippling and inaction is actually an action. Those years when we were in fiscal crisis, I didn’t own my narrative. I allowed my story to be written by others. I did not take ownership of my life in a responsible way; I let life happen to me. It wasn’t until I found myself without a job that I realized that I’m responsible for my growth. I was put in a situation that made me so uncomfortable that growth was the only way out of it. I’ve learned to live and breathe right outside my comfort zone-it where the magic happens.
To contact Tonya Davis for any inquiries please email her at
*The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.