Beyond the Badge

Q&A with retired Undersecretary Allison

Woman speaks to room full of people.
Undersecretary Kathleen Allison is retiring this month.

CDCR Undersecretary of Operations looks back on career

Since starting in 1987, Undersecretary Kathleen Allison has seen a lot of changes and has had an impact on the department. As she looks at retirement, she hopes to continue making a difference in the community.

The Succession Management Program (SMP) wanted to capture her history and advice to support CDCR executives’ continuous learning and development, career growth, and to promote the benefits of participating in the SMP.

What do you look forward to most coming to work now and when you were Director of the Division of Adult Institutions (DAI)?

The impact I had on the institutions and the Division of Adult Parole Operations, and now Division of Juvenile Justice and Division of Rehabilitative Programs, is very different than when I was a Warden. As a Warden, you have the greatest impact with setting the tone with staff and interaction with all levels of staff. 

Portrait photo of woman in business attire.
Kathleen Allison has worked for the department since 1987.

I was able to model professional behavior and set the example for all staff to emulate, especially with regards to treating the offenders with dignity and respect. As an Associate Director, your role changes to executing policy and you get to be a part of the big picture. As a Director, there’s more impact on policy and wellness efforts and I felt I had the most impact in this role than as the Undersecretary. I was glad to be part of the effort of steering the Department in the right direction, beginning to provide real rehabilitation.

What changes/accomplishments in DAI are you most proud of?

DAI’s rehabilitation efforts, the impact of Proposition 57 and how the Department adopted its meaning and intent. I am proud of the efforts in making this a division and department of integrity – both inmates and staff having the resources to succeed.

Have you ever struggled in your daily job duties, and what did you learn from that experience? Can you recall what this/these position(s) were?

I learned that having the strength and perseverance, to overcome the obstacles in my way, was key. It was and in some parts still is, a very male-dominated culture; some females have helped pave the way and I am thankful for that. It was an endless cycle of working hard, with no excuses and I always took advantage of various job opportunities. I always took the job or task to gain more experience – being willing to work on new tasks, coupled with a good attitude, allows others to see this and want you to work for them. Be true to you and know what your needs are; have strength and don’t let the negative derail you.

Tell us about a time when you felt uncertain about obtaining your next level of promotion and how you ultimately decided to move forward.

Leaving Avenal State Prison (ASP) after 15 years was the toughest decision I made. If I didn’t leave, it is likely that I would not be where I am today. I knew it was best for my future growth. Looking back, leaving was the best decision I made. I was successful in the Associate Warden exam, which was the springboard in my career to more job opportunities.

Is there some quality, skill or trait that you believe successful leaders tend to have?

It is important to have perseverance, to not be afraid to lead and be direct and decisive. We hope that the right people want to promote for the right reasons – to want to make impact and a difference in the Department. Great leaders should want to encourage the people who work for them.

If you were talking to yourself 20 years ago, what career advice would you give and what critical information do you think would be most beneficial?

I would tell myself to stay focused on the job at hand and do the best in my role, which helped me as I bounced in and out of the Peace Officer status. Ask for others’ input along the way, where I learned as much as possible, say yes to every opportunity, and work hard to provide a good product.

What advice would you give someone seeking a promotion today?

  • Be engaged in the area of your own responsibility; walk it, talk it, and breathe it.
  • Follow policy and hold people accountable; be responsible for it.
  • Have a mentor, or phone a friend; in fact, I am still in touch with my first mentor.
  • As a mentor, build relationships with your mentee.
  • Be willing to move to surrounding institutions to learn more diverse areas within the Department.
  • Remember to vent up and not down.
  • Be loyal to the agency; not an individual person.
  • Treat people with dignity and respect, always.
  • Executives have to care, since we are making an impact over people’s lives.
  • Show up, be open, be kind, work hard and it will happen.

For more information regarding the Succession Management Program, visit the SMP web page or email POSED_ALISMP@CDCR.CA.GOV.

By Succession Management Program staff

See more stories highlighting CDCR/CCHCS staff.

Follow us on YouTubeFacebook and Twitter.