1. Durkin, Gregory J. MEd, RN, NPD-BC

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The scope and standards for nursing professional development practice include advocacy for the profession as a key responsibility (Harper & Maloney, 2016)-but what about advocacy for the self: "[horizontal ellipsis]the act of supporting one's own interests" (Doherty et al., 2016, p. 253)? Identifying a need and using your powers of influence and communication to self-advocate are also important. Professional development practitioners have a duty to themselves to advocate in a respectful way and express their opinions (Doherty et al., 2016).

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Reasons to self-advocate are many: You need equipment or technology to do your job, you want to be selected for a new project, you desire a promotion, you need a schedule change to support going back to school, you need time off to take care of your mental health, you do not feel listened to or valued, or you have an idea to impact practice and need permission to implement. All of these and more are good reasons to self-advocate. Your reason, however, should be about something important and beneficial to your organization and not just to yourself (Kolb, 2015). Successful self-advocates tie their need to a meaningful outcome to their leadership and their organization.


It can be difficult to self-advocate, even if you are certain that your reason is important and beneficial. DeMarco et al. (2008) assert that "nurses' behaviors and beliefs in the workplace are influenced by systems that challenge their abilities to self-advocate in the context of professional work" such as relationships, values, beliefs, and hierarchical social structures (p. 297). There are also likely to be emotions involved, lack of psychological safety, or difficulty initiating dialogue (Kolb, 2015). Also, in some organizations, the act of self-advocacy can be seen as self-importance, egotistical, or as not being a team player (Kolb, 2015). It may be difficult to determine who you should self-advocate to or with, or there may be a lack of assertiveness and courage.


Self-advocacy is a skill that needs to be learned and developed. Although there is no agreed-upon competency for self-advocacy, a review of the literature and an unconventional approach of polling my network on social media returned several strategies that validated what has worked for me. Several themes emerged that may help you to self-advocate.


First and foremost, you need to start with making sure that what you are advocating for is important, both to you and to the organization in some way. The issue needs to be framed from this perspective: How will getting what you want demonstrate value? Although you may benefit, that should not be the primary reason for asking and advocating.


Second, while framing the importance, gather data to support your concern and try to see the other side's perspective. Determine what they may be opposed to and gather data to address those things. In addition, ask, listen, and observe other's self-advocacy. "The more you know about what others have asked for and been granted at work, the more comfortable you'll feel crafting your negotiation" (Kolb, 2015, p. 131).


Several years ago, I had been implementing a new competency program. As part of this effort, I wanted to purchase an add-on to our learning management system to deploy and track these competencies. The cost was expensive and would require a substantial implementation timeline, but I was convinced it was the right thing to do. To make the case, I gathered data about time spent tracking competencies (personal and organizational benefit), use cases (organizational benefit), and how to create efficiencies (personal and organizational benefit). I thought about all of the reasons leadership might say no and had a response ready. I had to explain why spending this money-which was not in the budget-was important to the organization. The contract was signed a few months later.


Third, remove emotional content from your advocacy. Often, what we want is surrounded by feelings and emotions: frustration, unfairness, uncertainty, inequity, and maybe even anger. Leaders are not often persuaded by emotion; facts and data persuade them. Before you start self-advocating, calm down and remove the emotions. Take your self-advocacy for a "test drive" with a friend or trusted colleague. Listen to the feedback, as often they will identify emotional content in your message that you did not realize was there. As you proceed, resist getting defensive when others do not want to give you what you are asking for, as this will only send a message that you are not listening or collaborating (Kolb, 2015). Listen to what they say, ask clarifying questions and priorities, and make it a dialogue (Donovan, 2021).


Recently, I was approached to participate in the development of some refresher education by a leadership team. Although the refresher was needed, the approach and timeline were not going to be successful, and I was frustrated by the short-sided, rushed approach and irritated because I felt I was not being heard. Before I started advocacy with the team, I had to calm down and think about the situation factually. What is making me emotional? What would not work? How did I know that? What data could I share to support my belief? What do I think should be done instead? When I was answered those questions without expressing frustration and irritation, I was listened to, and after a few weeks, the plan for the education design was changed!


Next, be gently persistent and patient. A friend calls this "playing the long game." Stay true to what you want but recognize it may take a while to get there; few of us get what we want the first time we ask for it. If you are not successful in your self-advocacy, keep trying over time by responding to the reasons you are being told "no." Continue gathering data and making the case for its importance.


In my last position, I started to self-advocate for a position change to "senior" professional development specialist. The job did not exist at that time, and I presented my case and kept advocating. I was given a reason why it could not happen or an action needed, and then I used the next month to gather a response. Each month I would remind of the issue and provide the requested additional data. It took several months of persistence and responding to questions and challenges, but I was ultimately successful and created a new job title and a new advancement pathway.


Lastly, develop what I call an advocacy mindset. This means building a foundation of supports and mental fortitude that will aid you when it is time to self-advocate. Start that foundation by repeatedly and consistently demonstrating your value to your team, department, and organization (Abrell, 2020; Masterclass, 2020). People need to see you as a can-do person who gets things done. Do not be afraid to shamelessly self-promote and make your contributions transparent! Furthermore, build allies and relationships (Abrell, 2020; Kolb, 2015; Masterclass, 2020). Having supportive folks on teams, leadership circles, and the organization can all help establish your credibility and worth. These people will speak up for you and your ideas. Related to that, position yourself in places of importance-get yourself "at the table" where your concern(s) are addressed. Also, do not whine and grumble when you do not get your way. Continue on with your long game as long as you need to.


Self-advocacy does not come naturally to many people and can be interpreted as ego if your advocacy is not based on benefits and data. It is a skill that you need to build and enhance over time, and it "requires that you build credibility as a practitioner and a year-round reputation as an effective employee" (Abrell, 2020). Keep at it, keep going, and keep speaking up! You deserve it.




Abrell T. (October, 2020). A year-round guide to self-advocacy. Forbes, [Context Link]


DeMarco R., Roberts S. J., Norris A., McCurry M. K. (2008). The development of the nurse workplace scale: Self-advocating behaviors and beliefs in the professional workplace. Journal of Professional Nursing, 24(5), 296-301. [Context Link]


Doherty C., Landry H., Pate B., Reid H. (2016). Impact of communication competency training on nursing students' self-advocacy skills. Nurse Educator, 41(5), 252-255. [Context Link]


Donovan M. (2021). Managing up: how to be your own advocate at work. The Muse, [Context Link]


Harper M. G., Maloney P. (2016). Nursing professional development: Scope & standards of practice (3rd ed.). Association for Nursing Professional Development. [Context Link]


Kolb D. M. (2015). Be your own best advocate. Harvard Business Review, November, 130-133. [Context Link]


Masterclass. (November 9, 2020). 8 Simple ways to advocate for yourself at work. [Context Link]