Transitioning from Autism to Organizational Behavior Management

Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA

I’m fortunate to see a wide cross section of behavioral science, and behavior analysis, that few others see, due to my role at and the visibility it affords. Over the years, countless BCBAs have approached me with some variant of “I’m not that interested in autism treatment and want to get a job in Organizational Behavior Management but I don’t know where to start.”

If you are one of these folks, you’re in luck. Allison King and Kelly Therrien published an article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management titled “Professional Development in Organizational Behavior Management.” In the article, they take the perspective of a fictional character named Jack – who has clinical experience and is pursuing a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis, but who would like to pursue a career in OBM.

Here’s some of the advice they gave him, with my personal take added to the mix:

Define your career goals.

What is your personal mission statement? What are your life values? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? These are things we all need to work on, and are particularly relevant to the literature on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Clarifying values and life directions help you track what is important to you, to see if you are picking up appropriate reinforcers along the way, and to flexibly adjust your path as needed during the journey.

Seek out informational interviews.

Everyone has a network. Use it! We all know people that know people. If you are a student, start with your professors. Get on LinkedIn and search out professionals with relevant experiences. Get in touch with people whose activities may align with your career goals and set up an informational interview. The authors stress that you should understand that these are very busy people, so be sure to thank them for their time, and offer to buy them lunch if they are local.

Go to networking events.

I cannot stress the importance of networking from my personal experience being self employed. Moreover, I cannot stress the importance of networking with people who are NOT in Applied Behavior Analysis, as most will be clinicians working in the autism field. The world is full of people with expertise in many areas, and you never know how yours will align with theirs, especially as you venture into the business world with an interest in OBM. I personally recommend events such as 1 Million Cups, and other business networking events found via or your local Chamber of Commerce. One valuable skill you will learn to develop here is the ability to succinctly talk about your interests in plain English, without technical jargon.

However, the authors also recommend a few OBM specific events such as the OBM Network, a special interest group of the Association for Behavior Analysis International. You may also try the Behavioral Safety Now conference or the International Society of Performance Improvement. The authors also recommended the importance of strengthening relationships formed from these events. Followup with the people you meet, suggest lunch in the future, or a project for collaboration.

Get experience.

Many faculty give OBM projects to their students that require them to reach out to local businesses. However, if no faculty like this exist in your area, you may have to get creative. If you have a job while going to school, the authors recommend talking to your managers to see if you can do an OBM project there for free. You can also look around your University to see what projects may be available there. The authors stress that when looking for jobs, the announcement will rarely if ever say “OBM”, so look for related topics in organizational behavior, i/o psychology, human resources, training, and the like. With a little creativity, you can relate all of these to a background in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Education – The BCBA credential and formal degrees may be optional.

The education side of the puzzle, like the others, all depend on your goals. The authors stated that the BCBA credential, for example, may be irrelevant unless you plan to work with clinical ABA agencies. Moreover, a Master’s or Doctoral degree isn’t always necessary. Professional development or certificate programs such as the Project Management Professional from the Project Management Institute, or Lean Six Sigma, by the American Society for Quality, or a coaching certification from the International Coach Federation may be more relevant, depending on your goals. On the other hand, you may decide that pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration will help you reach your goals. In short, business comprises much more than behavioral principles alone, but deciding how to augment your education depends on your goals.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in Organizational Behavior Management, be sure to read the full article in JOBM for many more details, including a Career and Professional Development Plan in the Appendix. Do you have other tips that weren’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward can be reached at [email protected]

About bsci21 703 Articles
President, bSci21 Media, LLC Editor,


  1. I want to read this article, but I’m broke right now, so thank you for summarizing! I’ve followed many of these pieces of advice, and I’ve made good progress towards transitioning into OBM. I will add a few additional tips that I’ve learned from others in the field:

    a) Read, read, read. Seek out books and articles on topics you are interested in (behavior-based safety, performance management, behavioral systems analysis, leadership, coaching, etc.)

    b) Listen to relevant podcasts like Straight Talk: Bad for Business, Performance Thinking, and Behavioral Observations.

    c) Volunteer to take on an OBM project. You can get really creative here. You may be able to do a project with an organization that you’re already volunteering with or find an organization with a mission that aligns with your values, build rapport, and see if there may be an opportunity to take on a project. Perhaps there may even be volunteer opportunities with your state professional association for behavior analysis on various committees, as was the case for me.

    d) Find a mentor. Find someone in OBM, and ask if they would be willing to mentor you. It is best to set goals that you want to achieve from mentorship before reaching out to someone, so that when you reach out, it is clear to them that you are serious about mentorship, and you’ve done some initial groundwork towards transitioning into the field. Be open and flexible with regard to the mentor/mentee relationship. Typically, mentorship is a temporary 3-6 months kind of commitment, though it doesn’t have to be. The relationship can wax and wane however determined by both parties. Be open, clear, and transparent about boundaries, timelines, and expectations. Be respectful of their time, arrive on time to meetings and make sure to end on time.

    d) Get connected on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms. There are several OBM groups that provide valuable resources and opportunities to network with OBM professionals.

    Best of luck on your journey!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.