Success Insider: Rita Sever – Organizational Trainer


Supervision is a critical function of leadership that is often overlooked, and yet the quality of supervision is often what makes or breaks a leader—and an organization. Along with being a certified professional coach and speaker who works with social justice organizations, Rita Sever is the author of “SUPERVISION MATTERS: 100 Bite-sized Ideas to Transform You and Your Team,” and LEADING FOR JUSTICE: Supervision, HR, and Culture.

ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Rita Sever discusses her career as an organizational trainer. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Acast.

Rita has an MA in Organizational Psychology and is a certified professional coach. Rita approaches supervision as a primary leadership function. In addition, she sees the function of human resources and the culture of an organization as essential components of organizational effectiveness. She works with individuals, teams, and entire organizations to help the organization be in alignment internally as they work to achieve justice externally. She is also a regular Big Blend Radio guest and expert contributor.

So, what does it take to be successful as an organizational trainer? Listen to our Big Blend Radio discussion with Rita Sever and read her answers to our 10+ Success Insider Questions about her career, including the challenges she faces, as well as her inspirations.

1. What led you to become an organizational trainer?
I think it was sort of inevitable. I have 5 siblings and 4 of them were teachers before they retired. My uncle used to tease my dad that he must have been reading when he made all of us!

I didn’t take the standard teacher track. I found my way into Human Resources, and I saw the need for some staff training. At first, I hired external trainers and when I experienced several trainings as basic and a little boring! I decided I could do better. I bring play and creativity to my work as a training, and I respond well to who is “in the room” so it turned out to be something that I am good at, and I love to do it.

2. What attributes do you have that make you a good fit to be a trainer?
First, I know my stuff. My work is all about supervision and I know how to help people be not only a good supervisor but a more user-friendly one. In addition, I am thoughtful, creative, playful, and responsive. That means I put a lot of time and energy into not only the content of the training but to how I want to present it and how people can best learn the information or skills I am teaching. I also can usually read the room and respond in real-time if I am losing people or if the energy is low or if someone is resistant.

All my trainings are interactive and build on the knowledge and experience of those in the room. As an example of how I keep my trainings interesting, in CA where I live, there has been a requirement for sexual harassment training for supervisors since 2007. So, I created that training and then updated it seven times to keep it interesting and relevant while still covering the required information.

I will also say that I am authentic. I will tell you if I don’t know something and I will tell stories from my own life. I occasionally will stumble over my words or remember something I forgot to say and go “Oops”. I think my authenticity as a trainer helps people relate to me.

3.Who or what inspires you?
My clients constantly inspire me. I work primarily with social justice organizations and their commitment to making the work a better and more just place is incredible. Each person I work with wants to supervise in a manner that is respectful, connective, and effective. They want to do better and learn how to address problems in a way that is supportive while also making work, work!

4. Describe your ideal client.
I love doing trainings with a whole team who are ready to learn and want to make what I teach relevant to them and their work. I love when they are ready to ask questions, try things out, and talk together about how they can do better – as individuals and as a team. When a team does a training together, they can adapt practices and language that help reinforce the training. The same is true when I give talks to groups – I love when they are ready to try on new ideas or new ways of doing things and have fun while doing so.

5. What is your biggest pet peeve regarding leadership training?
When training is presented as “learn all you need to know” in x amount of time. And it is all lecture and does not invite participants to make it their own or relevant to them.

6. How do you approach a speaking gig as different than a training?
The truth is I approach them in a very similar fashion. The time factor is usually shorter with a speaking gig, so I need to respond to that, but I still want to get participants involved and work with them where they are.

So, I guess the main difference is the time factor which then also limits either the depth or breadth of a topic. 

For instance, I can talk about some key factors of good supervision or barriers to good supervision in an hour, but I can’t tell you everything you need to know and give you time to practice. 

Or I can dive into a specific area and cover it more in-depth, like how to give feedback in a way that people are more likely to hear it.

7. What do you consider a leadership trait that is often ignored?
Self-awareness. I think that is an essential skill for leaders and it is not often acknowledged or discussed. I encourage the leaders I work with to devote specific time each week (even 5 or 10 minutes) to reflect on how they showed up that week. Is there anything they wish they had done differently? Is there anything they need to clear up with anyone? 

Is there anything that confused or frustrated them? And if this is a challenge for someone, I encourage them to learn the value of self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-management. Self-awareness is one of the most important attributes of effective leadership.

8. How do you practice what you preach/teach?
The truth is that my work is about interpersonal dynamics, which I apply to supervision. This includes how people learn, how people grow, how they respond, and how we can work well together. So, I am constantly reminding myself of things that I teach supervisors in my personal life, as well as my professional life. Just the other day I was having a little spat with my husband, and he said, “You’re not listening to me!” And I had to take a deep breath and tell myself, “Oh right. Listening is important. I know how to do that.”

9.If you could invite any three people (alive or passed on) to invite to a dinner party, who would they be and why?
Michelle Obama. Susan Cain. Susan Scott. 

Susan Cain is the author of “Quiet and Bittersweet.” She helped me learn to appreciate and celebrate that I am an introvert. I haven’t read “Bittersweet” yet, but I look forward to it. It is about “How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole.” 

Susan Scott is the author of “Fierce Conversations”, “Fierce Leadership” and “Fierce Relationships.” I learned how to be brave from her.  

And Michelle Obama! I think we could have deep and fun conversations about life, relationships, leadership, justice, and writing.

10. If you won a huge lottery and wanted to set up a foundation, what would you focus on?
I would want to make sure that every nonprofit that has more than 10-15 staff people (or volunteers) has a dedicated HR staff member who is trained to do HR in a manner that puts the staff’s well-being and equity as a priority – while still centering the mission and the safety of the organization.

BONUS QUESTION: What is the most important tip you would pass on to another person just getting started in leadership?
Read my books! Pay attention to self-awareness and pay attention to your staff.

Listen to them. Believe them. Work in a manner that shows that you respect and appreciate the people you work with – both internally and externally.

Learn more about Rita’s coaching practice and books at


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Learn more about Rita’s coaching practice and books at

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