How to be a Training Leader


The business of training and development is crucial to any organization’s performance. Businesses want to gain a competitive advantage and for others the need to improve productivity or obtain better business outcomes is the pain point of the moment. Ultimately, all organizations are looking to optimize the talent of their workforce. Training is, therefore, a huge responsibility and needs motivated and skillful individuals to handle it.

When Litmos approached me with the idea of writing about training leadership within enterprise organizations, I was sold. As one might image, Learning Rebels has some ideas about what makes a successful leader, training or otherwise.

Then, I stopped and pondered. Hmmm, training leadership? What exactly are we talking about here? I’m not unfamiliar with the concept of training leadership, having spent many years in a training leadership role within a few companies. However, L&D is one of the few industry’s where a training leadership role means one thing in one organization and have another somewhere else. As a matter of fact, I took a poll a couple of years ago asking people about training positions and titles, I ended up with a list 90 titles long. NINETY. So to say we are a confused bunch, is an understatement.

So, how to rock this? Where to start? I thought for our purposes (at least today, anyway), I would ask the learning peeps out there in the twitterverse their thoughts about what makes a good training manager. Here a few responses:

  • Organizes the who, what and how of training
  • Someone who enables learning in the organization
  • Someone who is responsible for the upskilling of the business
  • Manages a team of trainers who deliver training to an organization using a variety of different modalities
  • A person who works with business or department heads to determine necessary training requirements
  • A person who manages the measurement and is held accountable for compliance training


Trip Over to SHRM

Well, okay. Those are some good technical job description nuggets. Although, certainly not all encompassing. Next up, time to take a trip over to the SHRM website (Society for Human Resource Management). As the official keepers of all job descriptions, surely they must be reasonably up-to-date? Sort of. They have a list of job duties and job competencies, but it really wasn’t pointing me in the direction of “rocking the position”.

Here are some of the job duty basics listed on SHRM:

  1. Training needs assessments
  2. Develop training plans
  3. Develop training programs
  4. Manage the training budget
  5. Conduct Kirkpatrick style assessments on training programs and measure results

Then, there were other things on the list that make me scratch my head:

  1. Set up training rooms
  2. Maintain newsletters and bulletin boards (bulletin boards? seriously?)
  3. Orders equipment and supplies

Okay – so maybe looking at the job duties wasn’t the way to go. Apparently, we are managing the training function of an organization stuck in 1950. The only thing left off that list is to ensure lunch and donuts are ordered. I get it, if you are a one person training department then someone (with the help of others) has to do routine training “stuff”. However, these are more “to-do” list items than major job results.

ATD Competencies

ATD CompetencyMy next trip was over to the ATD (Association for Training and Development) for their competency model. Here, I knew I would find success.

I’ve been around the training block a time or two (or twenty), and I knew this model was in place. What this exercise demonstrated is that there are two distinct ideas as to what the job should look like, and where our areas of expertise should focus. One path keeps us in the moment; the other sets us up for the future.

Now, understanding that all organizations are different, and have different expectations of the job roles within – is good to know our jumping off point. Below is the competency model from ATD. Jumping from this springboard, I will be taking each of the six areas and discussing how they apply to the training manager function. Plus some.

Where is the mention of “ensure you and your team stays current in your chosen field?” or “Stay current of market rates for your trainers, so your compensation package stays current?” or how about, “Providing your team with the tools and feedback to do well, until waiting until everyone is drowning and there’s no hope for survival?”.

I’m missing the part about being fearless in your networking skills, and developing a “Personal Learning Network”, or perhaps, “Practicing the latest marketing techniques to ensure your product is relevant.” Yes, because regardless of if you are a freelancer or fly the corporate flag – you have a product to sell, and what is that product saying about your department. That’s marketing and branding – an area that is neglected in the L&D field in general.

So, in addition to the six ATD foundational competencies our “plus some” will include:

Strategic Thinking
Continuous Learning
Innovative Thinking
Change Management
Knowledge Sharing

All You Need is Love

Mostly, the first step in rocking the training leadership role, is being passionate about the work. As cliché as it may sound, love what you do – do what you love. Regardless of your position – trainer or training leader, any person in training should enjoy relating to people. You should love to interact with people, discovering their pain points, love coming up with solutions to these pain points, and enjoy motivating colleagues to be the best versions of themselves. Love helping the business to succeed, relish in the fact that you can sniff out a root cause better than a pig hunting truffles. Love finding a new way to solve an old problem, enjoy bringing innovations to classroom and beyond.

It’s a tough job and someone has to do it, and it should be someone with love and passion for it! Come back to this page each month to draw inspiration, gather additional thoughts, and to share your thoughts on “what success looks like” for a training leader in 2017.

But don’t wait! If you have thoughts, comments, or questions, don’t hesitate to let me know! It takes a village to move an industry forward, let it start with you.