Cindy A. Kief

Cindy A. Kief, ND, COTA/L

Academic Fieldwork Coordinator/Instructor
Occupational Therapy Assistant Program
Describe your journey of leadership. Where and when did you begin?

I would say my leadership began when I took a position on the advisory board at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. While serving on this board I became aware of academia as a practice area. I applied for a job as an instructor when a position became available. I would say this was the beginning of my journey as a leader.

I would also consider smaller steps—such as presenting at district and state conferences—because if I had not been involved in organizations in the area the advisory board would probably not have asked me to be a member.

In the academic environment there are many opportunities for leadership. This is not something I ever saw myself doing, but gradually I began to take on more leadership roles and participating in more organizations.

What made you want to be involved in OTA leadership?

The times I chose to get involved I thought either it would benefit me by attaining experience and knowledge, or it would be something fun to do. I am rather an “occupational therapy nerd” if truth be told. 

The one time I thought I would try to get more involved in the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) and American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), I went to a presentation at the AOTA Annual Conference and introduced myself to AOTA staff member Sue Graves. 

Well, be careful with that, because that introduction got me about 9 years of leadership opportunities. I served on the Roster of Accreditation Evaluators, the Standards Review Committee, and also a couple of years on ACOTE. These opportunities were some of the most challenging and worthwhile adventures in which I have participated. The people I have met and the lifelong friends from these committees have been a tremendous benefit.

I am most proud of one of the leadership roles I assumed to make a change in policy. The Ohio Occupational Therapy/Physical Therapy, and Athletic Trainers Board did not have an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) as an appointed member. I thought this was unreasonable, and that the board was not representing the many OTAs in Ohio. So I volunteered to serve as an advisor to the board. 

I attended all of the meetings and weighed in on all issues pertinent to OTAs and other issues that I felt prepared to address. After several years, the board finally voted to appoint an OTA to be on the board permanently.

Did you have a mentor? If so, how did this relationship come about? Is it ongoing? Did you have other mentors along the way?

I didn’t really have a specific mentor, but rather people who would support me along the way. There were many occupational therapists (OTs) and OTAs who encouraged me and worked on projects with me. It often just took a supervisor or someone I worked with to say, “you are really good at that, why don’t you work on presenting?” 

Along the way there were many occupational therapy supervisors who also allowed me to use my knowledge and grow as an occupational therapy practitioner. Most supervisors didn’t care about the difference in our education or credentials, but rather how we could work together and share knowledge for the best of our clients and facility.

Geri Vehr was a very early mentor. She went on to medical school and is now a physician. There have been many more people along the way. At ACOTE, Sue Graves and Carol Doehler have been very helpful in helping me attain professional leadership skills. Anne Zobay is another mentor who influenced me over the years. She always found leadership roles that she thought would be good for me and for the organizations. 

Our OTA program director, Claudia Miller, is also a current mentor as she is very supportive and encouraging to me in my professional endeavors. Carol Scheerer, who is the program director at Xavier University, is also someone who I would consider a mentor. She co-authored a book with me and without her I wouldn’t have finished the book. 

She also encourages me and finds leadership roles for me. To be honest, I have had to learn to say no to many of the offers these fine and encouraging people have made.

How did your mentors help you become a leader or a better leader?

Like I said, there were not any formal mentors, but there were and are people who would encourage me by pointing out things that I did well and then encouraged and perhaps pointed out opportunities that might be a good fit for my talents and interests.

What pitfalls or obstacles have you had in your journey to become a leader?

A pitfall may be that I took on more responsibilities than I could handle. Sometimes I have been in a position when life challenges got in the way and I had to stop being so involved for a time period.

What surprises did you encounter?

Surprises I have encountered include meeting absolutely wonderful people and getting to know people who do an extreme amount of work for the occupational therapy community. 

Another surprise has been how one opportunity will lead to another, which perhaps becomes an adventure. For instance, because of my involvement with ACOTE, Carol Doehler asked me to go on a therapy mission trip. This was certainly a surprise and a life-changing adventure, both personally and professionally.

Why is OTA leadership important? How does OTA leadership benefit the profession? 

I can’t even begin to tell you how important it is. In the different roles I have assumed as an OTA, we have a distinct voice and a perspective that others often don’t see. I have been an OTA for 34 years now, and I love the profession more today than I ever have. The position of an OTA is extremely important and we all need to become involved with our local, state, and national OT organizations to make sure the profession is respected and perpetuated.

What advice would you give someone who is considering a leadership journey? What are some first steps that OTAs who are just starting out can take?

Advice I would give is to start small and just keep moving forward; introduce yourself to people, join organizations, and speak up so your voice is heard. Simply ask someone who might be doing something you are interested in doing, how they became involved. Ask people who are in positions of leadership to consider you for a possible opening in the future. Answer the calls for help that come across from AOTA and various organizations. Once that first door opens, it just leads to more and more opportunities! Enjoy the ride and enjoy the passengers on the ride with you!

How do you plan to continue your leadership?

I plan to continue to take on leadership roles as my talents, desires, and time allow. I also will continue to try to encourage and point others in the right direction to take on leadership roles of their own.