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The Psychology of Leadership: Perspectives from Intellectual Disabilities
Increasingly there are calls for clinical psychologists to define themselves as “more than
psychological therapists” and leadership is often cited as one of the defining characteristics
of the profession. It can be difficult to distinguish between leadership and management,
however, and psychologists sometimes struggle to articulate their own leadership
Until recently, the literature on management and leadership, while ostensibly drawing on
psychological theory, was typically not evidence-based, and lacked a credible research
foundation. Instead, many books offering advice on leadership, while couched in
psychological terminology, drew primarily on ‘pop-psychology’ concepts and the personal
experience of the authors.
In contrast, psychologists in the field of intellectual disability regularly engage in leadership
behaviours. Although rarely formally recognised as leadership, psychologists contribute
substantially to the welfare of their clients by harnessing and sustaining energy and
motivation in other staff. Typically, such staff are not directly managed by psychologists and
therefore any influence is consensual and co-constructed. This is the very essence of more
contemporary perspectives on “servant-leadership” and “authentic leadership”.
This presentation will outline these modern theoretical perspectives on leadership as a
socially constructed phenomenon and show how a background working within complex
social systems, uniquely places psychologists in intellectual disabilities in leadership roles on
an almost daily basis.
The challenge of how to articulate, label and record such leadership behaviours on an
ongoing basis will be discussed.
Professor Robert Jones is a clinical psychologist in North Wales who divides his time
between his role as Head of Department for clinical psychology services for people with
intellectual disability in the local Health Board, and Academic Director of the North Wales
Clinical Psychology Training Programme at Bangor University.
Robert is also a Chartered Manager and Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and
has an interest in how theoretical perspectives from the field of intellectual disability
(particularly functional analysis and systemic interventions) can be applied to the field of
Originally from Dublin, Robert has worked clinically in ID services in Ireland, England and
Wales and has published widely in the area, especially in the field of behavioural
interventions for challenging behaviour.
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