The Key Competencies of the COO: Part 2

In Part One, we learned that lived experience has given Heather a lot of perspective in her role as the Chief Operations Officer. But what about work experience?

“All the positions I’ve held in treatment facilities taught me important lessons,” Heather says.

Her work experience in the field began after going to treatment and peer support meetings and joining the recovery community scene. Heather knew then that she wanted to find employment in the treatment field, as well. She was ready to start wherever she could get a job. Her first break came when a job opened in the kitchen at Olalla Recovery Center. She had a friend who worked there – someone she knew from the recovery community – and that friend vouched for her character when she went in to talk to the kitchen manager about the position. “After all I’d been through, I didn’t believe I was worthy,” she explains. “But then I got the job, and I was so grateful to have the chance to be there.”

Although Heather didn’t enjoy the type of work she was doing, she loved working in treatment, and she knew that this was just the first step in her career path. “Eventually, I made it onto the support staff team. I was doing intakes and meeting people who were coming in for treatment to determine whether or not they were stable enough to be there. I really felt like I was part of something bigger.”

I really felt like I was part of something bigger.

After three years at Olalla, Heather learned of a position with Kitsap Recovery Center working in the inpatient program as a Treatment Aide. This job involved working closely with clients, from enforcing the rules of the facility and administering urinalysis tests to performing security checks, maintaining records and responding to emergencies. “There were 16 people interviewing for the job,” she says. “But they knew that I was in the recovery community when I applied. They wanted me there.”

She got the job at the county, and from there, she set her sights on working in the inpatient detox program at KRC. She also thought she might want to be a counselor someday, so she started taking classes to fulfill the Chemical Dependency Counselor certification. Then she did get a position in detox, and it felt like the perfect fit. She took a hiatus from the classes and focused on the job.

Sadly, a tragic event ended her position there, and she was devastated. “The county was such a huge part of my identity that when I lost my job there, I felt like I lost a part of myself,” she explains. The event didn’t cause her to relapse, though. She stayed clean.

Ken Wilson, CEO at WSTC, had worked with Heather at KRC, and he knew her passion for the job and for the people. He wanted to add her talent to his team from the beginning. “I reached out to Heather a few times trying to recruit her while she was working in inpatient,” he says. “I knew she’d be a good fit due to her dedication to the field.” As soon as he heard that she was looking, he called to offer the Operations Manager job, and she accepted. “She did really well in the role, like I knew she would,” he says. “That’s what led to the promotion to executive leadership as Chief Operations Officer.”

Looking back over her work history, Heather lists the many things she has learned that give her confidence in this new position:

  • What her work style is
  • How important even the most seemingly menial job is when it comes to the big picture
  • Professionalism
  • Confidentiality
  • Accountability
  • How to set healthy boundaries, separating work from personal life
  • How to model recovery without feeling the need to control anyone else

Through it all, she has developed and maintained a deep compassion for those new to recovery and patience for those who may need to try several times before their decision to get clean becomes a reality.

“Maturity and perspective aren’t things you can get from a book,” Heather says. “They aren’t things you can buy. You have to get them from living life.”

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