Liz Kellett headshot

Author: Liz Kellett

Why joining an association board can be great for your career​

Four columns

Liz Kellett, a Fellow of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) and immediate past-President of the DAA, talks about her career and explains why volunteering on an association board can be part of your leadership journey.

To be leaders in the dietetics profession, dietitians can work in a number of differing ways and environments, but there is a common thread to the skills and abilities required.

Dietetic leaders can work in public health or private practice, manage departments in teaching hospitals or in rural settings, advise governments, promote nutrition in the media, advise food industry on how to manufacture products in line with dietary guidelines, work to improve Indigenous nutrition and health,  teach and fulfil academic positions, and so much more. 

The health sector is constantly undergoing change and review. Dietitians in leadership require the skills to manage this and lead others to achieve results. In a world where almost everyone considers themselves to know about food, and hence in some way to be a nutrition expert, the voice of the qualified dietitian must become clearer and stronger. Social media has provided opportunity for many unqualified people to speak up and claim to be experts, thus further requiring leaders in dietetics to have enhanced skills to promote themselves and the profession.

Working as a dietitian for over 40 years across a range of areas, I found leadership positions required many skills in areas like communication, advocacy, education, negotiation, change management and innovation. My roles have included managing a large hospital clinical department, leading nutrition education programs for schools, managing state and national nutrition education programs and resource development, and leading public health projects in early childhood. Skills are transferable and using different skills in different circumstances helps develop leadership capabilities and career opportunities.

Being involved in your professional association can develop your leadership skills and career prospects. As a dietitian I have been involved in this way for my entire career. DAA is the peak nutrition body nationally with well over 6000 dietitian members. I spent 12 years on the DAA Board of Directors, voted by the DAA members. My time on the board included a year as Vice President and four years as President. I believe many of the skills and experiences gained in my employment as a dietitian enabled me to do these roles and give back to the profession. Conversely, I took skills developed at DAA back to my workplace as a manager in a constantly changing health environment.

40 years as a volunteer with DAA has given me immense pride in my chosen profession and opportunities far beyond my employment. I joined the initial board of DAA as a young dietitian with only two years of working experience and was fortunate to be mentored by “older and wiser” members of the profession. Mentors are an extremely valuable and essential component of leadership development. A series of roles in DAA followed, including chairperson of the state branch. This developed my skills in negotiating, chairing large meetings, leading teams, speaking publicly and acting collaboratively.

Chairing a committee involved with the organisation of a large national conference was an opportunity I grasped with open arms twice. Here, I needed to be a strong, approachable and collaborative leader. Leading the team of course meant meeting our objectives, deadlines and financial limits, but it also meant acknowledging team members’ different backgrounds and skills. The conference program needed to suit a wide range of dietitians and so required innovation and inspiration. These types of experiences and skill development were highly useful when I successfully applied for a managerial position in a teaching hospital. 

As President I needed energy and passion for the profession while also inspiring others. I also required strong skills in change management, innovation and strategic leadership. Interpersonal skills like teamwork, collaboration and communication were important and I had to be able to make tough calls and negotiate solutions to difficult situations at the highest levels. 

During my time on the board, DAA demonstrated some exciting achievements with the efforts of the board, staff and membership, including: developing a three year strategic plan; significantly restructuring local branches and interest groups; strengthening the profession’s self-regulation; increasing commitment to member engagement; advancing and promoting the profession; reviewing the competency standards of the profession; establishing DAA’s Centre for Advanced Learning to improve professional development standards; and maintaining high standards for accreditation of dietetic programs at universities.

Development of leadership skills can occur in many ways throughout a career. My advice to younger members of both the dietetic profession and of other professions is to work in as many areas as possible to widely develop your skills and gain experience. Progressing professionally and becoming a leader does not solely depend on your paid employment opportunities as it is not always possible to find the perfect job that provides every opportunity. So, do not forget there are many volunteer roles in addition to paid work to further enhance your career. Involvement in a professional association or body is one of these, and I would certainly recommend it! 

Liz Kellett is a Fellow of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) and immediate past-President of DAA. Liz was Manager of the Department of Dietetics & Nutrition at Flinders Medical Centre until her retirement in 2014.

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