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Fun, inspiring program builds water leaders of tomorrow

What’s the secret to supporting vibrant communities in challenging times? Invest in your employees.

Fun. Challenging. Rewarding. Those were just some of the words Denver Water employees used to describe the organization’s new program created to develop leadership skills.

The H2O Leadership Academy is offered to all employees as part of Denver Water’s effort to invest in its people, who ensure the reliable, safe delivery of water to more a quarter of the state’s population.

“At Denver Water we face challenges every day in terms of water supply, aging infrastructure, climate change, water quality issues and more,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager at Denver Water. 

“That’s why we are investing in our employees, the people who lead us today and will lead us tomorrow.” 

Sue Robach teaches at the H2O Leadership Academy to a group of employees at Denver Water. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“The H2O Leadership Academy is an inspiring way for our employees to strengthen their skills and learn new ones,” Lochhead said. “We invite employees from across the organization to attend to make sure we have a good mix of people from different work groups.”

The in-house academy runs for nine months, with a full day of classes every month. 

“The goal of the academy is to develop competencies that leaders need not only now, but in the future so they can take us through the challenges of being able to deliver safe, clean and reliable water for future generations,” said Jeanne DeLiefde, director of learning and organizational development at Denver Water. 

Learn more about working at Denver Water.

“The program is important because we know that exceptional leadership is one of the keys to organizational success.”

Sue Robach, of Robach & Associates LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership development and organizational improvement, teaches the course using a mix of discussions, videos, simulations, case studies, role playing and real-world examples.

Employees from across various work groups at Denver Water participate in the leadership course: Photo credit: Denver Water.

“We keep the class fun, interactive, engaging and experiential,” Robach said. “We engage in a lot of self-discovery and self-awareness through assessments like communication, conflict management, emotional intelligence and personality styles to analyze how they impact leadership effectiveness.”

Highly trained leaders are needed to support Denver Water’s roadmap for the future, according to Lochhead.

“Strong leaders will help sustain the vibrant communities we serve every day,” he said. “These passionate employees are part of Denver Water’s larger Strategic Plan, which outlines how we will carry out our mission of serving our customers by delivering clean, safe water; running a reliable and resilient water system; and protecting water resources of the West for future generations.”

Learn how Denver Water’s Strategic Plan lays the foundation for its future

Leadership training within organizations has evolved over the years. These days the focus is less on a leader directing others and more on how they can empower others, DeLiefde said. 

“People have so many talents that are often untapped, so the role of the leader today is to discover those talents so people can be the best they can be,” DeLiefde said. 

Employees take part in a variety of exercises as they learn leadership skills. Photo credit: Denver Water.

A graduation ceremony caps off the program for each group at the end of the academy. 

“What we do here at Denver Water literally sustains the Denver metropolitan area, and it takes good people and good leaders to deliver on our mission,” Lochhead said. “I can’t think of a better investment than supporting the H2O Leadership Academy.”

Employees who took the course in 2022 said they learned a lot about themselves and benefited greatly from the opportunity to meet and discuss leadership challenges with co-workers from across the organization. 

Here’s what they had to say:

  • Chance Coe, water treatment lead: “I totally recommend it, hands down. I’ve been able to personally take something from each class and work on it, grow as a leader and take something back to my team.”
  • Barb McCoy, a supervisor for Denver Water’s utility locates department: “I loved it and I’m so happy Denver Water offers it to everyone. I feel that as the workplace evolves, we as workers need to evolve along with it.”
    Dueray Evans, Ralston Reservoir supervisor, takes part in an interactive lesson during the academy. Photo credit: Denver Water.


  • Tracy Agrafas, IT support senior specialist: “I would definitely recommend this program for anyone who is looking to be in a leadership position. I’ve learned so much about myself and the strengths and weaknesses that I need to work on.”
  • Veronica Hernandez, Human Resources talent manager: “I decided to enroll in the leadership academy because I was interested in becoming a more effective leader for my team. No matter what your race or ethnicity, we’re all individuals who have so much to contribute, so it’s important for everyone to take part in the course.” 
  • Missy Yoder, internal communications senior specialist: “One of the great things about working at Denver Water is that leadership is valued at every level, and so for me, learning these leadership skills is something I can use in every aspect of my job.” 
    Sue Robach (right), hands Missy Yoder her graduation diploma. Photo credit: Denver Water.


  • Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of water quality and treatment: “My own personal philosophy is that every three to five years you should jump back into leadership training to freshen up your skills, so this course has been great for me.” 
  • Aldo Pillitteri, water distribution manager: “Being a new leader is not easy, so this class gave me a number of strategies on how to help manage my team.” 
  • Ed Romero, water distribution foreman: “During the classes, we had leaders from different sections of the organization come and speak to us. It was great to hear all their views and opinions.” 
    The first graduates of the H2O Leadership Academy plus Sue Robach, facilitator, and Jeanne DeLiefde, director of learning and organizational development at Denver Water. Photo credit: Denver Water.