Dr. Peter Donahue

Recipient: March 2017

Dr. Peter Donahue believes that his social work training and education have provided him with the tools to successfully navigate future pathways that await him in his career: “The application and embracing of basic foundational social work skills have opened so many doors for me and created opportunities that I never would have dreamed existed when I started on my social work journey.” 
Peter Donahue, B.Sc., B.A., MSW, Ph.D., RSW, is Director, Graduate Program Chair and Associate Professor of King’s University College’s School of Social Work at Western University since 2015.  He is being recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader during Social Work Week, which is celebrated March 6-12, 2017, under the theme: "Social Workers: Real Expertise. Real Life. Real Impact." 

Peter brings a creative approach to teaching and learning and acts as an excellent role model for students. When mentoring students, he is known to generate excitement and curiosity about practice, policy and research. He explains: “A large part of who I am as a leader today is a result of the role modelling, guidance and sage advice I received from my mentors. These are all people who have a strong commitment to social work and believe they have an obligation to nurture the next generation of leaders in our profession.”

Prior to his current position, Peter Donahue was Associate Professor at the School of Social Work, Renison University College, University of Waterloo (2008-2013), and served as Chair of the Department of Social Development Studies at Renison (2013-2015). Peter was a major force in the development and implementation of the online MSW Program at Renison. His vision for this program was creative and future-oriented, and was established in collaboration with the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences. Previously, he was Associate Professor at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. Peter played an integral role in the establishment of the Faculty of Social Work’s concentration in gerontological social work introduced in 2002.

Prior to moving into academia, Peter was Program Coordinator for the Toronto Association of Neighbourhood Services – Seniors Program in Toronto. As Program Coordinator for the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens’ Organizations, he was involved in policy analysis and advocacy. His interest in gerontological research was furthered through his work as a Research Assistant at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care and at the Centre for Applied Social Research at the University of Toronto. He was a founding member of the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE), an organization that is multi-disciplinary and national and international in scope, and he served as the first Network Manager for the organization. Peter notes: “In 2006-2007, I spent my sabbatical year as the first Network Manager to help establish the group. Now in its twelfth year, the network has grown from a group of only 40 to include over 3,000 members worldwide and has developed dozens of tools. It was so exciting to be able to help build an organization from the ground up and watch it grow and flourish.”

Peter Donahue’s applied research and scholarly work is impressive, with a major focus on aging including: retirement, poverty, homelessness, physical and mental health, internet-based services, gay and lesbian issues, and knowledge exchange for gerontological and geriatric education. He states: “Through much of my career, I was frustrated by the lack of research that makes its way down into the hands of those who need it; namely policy makers, service providers, caregivers, and older adults themselves.” His work and vision for the transfer of knowledge and the evaluation of knowledge mobilization in aging have enormous potential for the future.  He has authored and co-authored numerous chapters, journal articles, presented refereed papers and workshops at over 50 conferences and written numerous research, technical and professional reports. His work is collaborative and multi-disciplinary, nationally across faculties and academic units, with community-based agencies and funding bodies at local, provincial, national, and international levels.

When asked about the essential attributes of leadership, Peter says: “An important component of leadership includes the cultivation and maintenance of relationships, alliances and networks at all levels. These relationships and alliances facilitate the promotion and development of programs and the profession of social work itself. Throughout my career, my ability to build and maintain strong relationships has been a common thread and a key to my success as a practitioner, research, educator, and administrator.  In order to be an effective social work leader, I subscribe to a participatory style that promotes a sense of partnership, of community, and of people working together for a common objective.  This style can best be described as one that focuses on teamwork within an environment of consultative decision-making.” 

Peter Donahue adds: “The key attribute that I feel is at the heart of being a professional leader is strong emotional intelligence. You can have the best training in the world, strong critical thinking skills and an endless supply of innovative ideas but, without emotional intelligence, you won’t be an inspirational leader. Although the concept of emotional intelligence has only recently been named and growing in popularity in the leadership literature, the basic tenets of emotional intelligence are really based on the key values and skills of social work, something we have known and practiced for decades. What the business world has only recently discovered has been the foundation of social work practice. As such, social work has a great deal to contribute to leadership in all aspects of life, not just within the human services sector.”

If he could be granted one wish, Peter indicates: “It would be that social work, as a profession, was able to achieve the same level of unity, respect, and power as many other professions have such as nursing, medicine, and teaching. While generally as a profession we do an excellent job of advocating with and on behalf of our clients, we aren’t very good at doing that when it comes to ourselves and our profession. Thankfully we have organizations that work towards achieving this, such as OASW, but there is a much stronger role for all of us who proudly carry the title of social worker to play in this regard.”

Dr. Peter Donahue is an inspirational leader in the social work community – future-oriented, collaborative, and emotionally intelligent. During Social Work Week, March 6-12, 2017, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference.