Preservation Leadership Training

Author: Katlyn Cotton
Jul 09, 2008

In the spirit of full disclosure I’ll begin by acknowledging that the National Trust is a great client of mine, and has been for 25 years. However, I am not now nor have I ever been an employee of the Trust and so I actually don’t have to say nice things about them to keep my job.

Over the years I’ve done work for most of the departments of the National Trust – Main Street of course, but also Properties, Public Policy, Finance, the annual conference, most of the publications, and even the administration side.

But among the favorite things I do for the Trust each year is a half day presentation at PLT – thePreservation Leadership Training program. PLT is a VERY intensive 7 day, 15 hour a day workshop for preservation professionals. Of the 30 or 35 people who attend each year, perhaps half of them are staff for non-profit preservation groups (statewide organizations, local organizations, Main Street programs), maybe a third work for state or local governments (SHPO offices, local preservation commissions) and the balance from the private sector or board members of organizations.

PLT is a combination of lectures and an on-the-ground hands-on case study of a local preservation challenge. Every year the location is in a different part of the country, so the nature of the case study varies widely. The lectures, which run from 9 to 5, are in such areas as Community Leadership, Politics of Preservation, Human Resources, Strategic Planning, Fund Raising, Legal Tools, Design, and (in my little niche) the Economics of Preservation. In short, the very areas of expertise that a preservation professional needs if he/she is going to be effective.

Now I’ve been doing PLT for the Trust for, I don’t know, I guess close to 20 years. And here’s why I think it is one of the best things the Trust does every year. The people who attend PLT work for the types of entities who are a big share of my clients – non-profit preservation groups, downtown organizations, and state and local governments. In any given year 4 or 5 of the attendees will have already been clients of mine, and a dozen or so more will be clients in the following couple of years.

But what PLT does is moves them to a whole other level in both competence and confidence. They come into PLT with different levels of experience and expertise, but for virtually every one of them, they take a quantum leap in their capacity.

As I said, the days are filled with the lectures…but that’s only half the work. The early mornings and evenings (often well into the night) are consumed with group work on the local case study project.

PLT participants are broken up into five or six teams with a half dozen participants on each team. They are given background on the case study project, conduct dozens of interviews with local stakeholders and, team by team, come up with a recommended response to the preservation issue.

This year’s PLT was in Portland, Maine, a great town of 64,000 that I’ll write about in a subsequent blog. And the case study was the Baxter Building, originally the public library and for the past 10 years or so been used as studio and classroom space for the Maine College of Art. The College currently owns but will be vacating the property. The case study, then, was to answer the question, “What now for the Baxter Building?” For additional insight on this year’s PLT you might want to read Priya Chhaya’s two blogs from Portland.

At the end of the week the PLT participants make a public presentation of their findings and recommendations. In several instances that I’ve seen over the years, it was the PLT insights that gave the local community both the direction and the confidence to appropriately address the preservation challenge.

So if you are a preservation professional (or want to be) get ahold of Alison Hinchman ( at the Center for Leadership Training at the National Trust. Next year there will be two PLT opportunities, the first in Alabama the week of January 11th and the second in Deadwood, South Dakota the week of June 21st.

Spend the time (and the modest amount of money). You’ll take a giant step in your preservation career.

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