Advanced Trusted
Advisor Program

The Advanced Trusted Advisor (ATA) program is designed for experienced change practitioners who wish to be viewed as invaluable resources by senior officers of the organizations they serve.

In this program, participants will identify, refine, and strengthen their ability to:

  • Successfully navigate the dynamics and pitfalls of establishing rapport with senior officers
  • Engage in sophisticated interpersonal communications and relationship-building
  • Understand the underlying forces that facilitate forming deep, trusting relationships with senior executives
  • Function as a strategic partner rather than as a tactical vendor
  • Establish trust with executives who may be leery of internal or external change practitioners
  • Deliver information, perspectives, and recommendations that leaders are able to appreciate and act on even when these insights prove uncomfortable to hear

ATA is structured to provide a supportive but challenging learning environment for seasoned internal specialists and external consultants who are or plan to serve as strategic change advisors. It is an advanced professional development experience untethered to any one change-related approach. ATA is methodology agnostic because its focus in not on what tools or techniques are used but on how the practitioner “shows up” when interacting with senior executives.

This graduate-level professional development program is intended for two types of seasoned practitioners: those who are already serving top executives and want to strengthen their ability to establish and maintain leader relationships, and those who aspire to one day work as a High Impact Trusted Advisor (HITA) with C-suite officers and other senior leaders.

Spring Cohort 2022 - Australia: (Currently in Progress) April 22, 2022 - August 19, 2022

Click here to enroll now for the Fall Cohort 2022: September 30, 2022 - March 3, 2023

Essays on the Mastery Path

The field of change management is ever-evolving; we continue to learn more about the human response to change every day. At Conner Academy, we support practitioners who are on a mastery path. These essays offer guidance on that journey.

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High Impact Trusted Advisors

Leaders responsible for implementing significant change in their organization need access to advisors who can leverage extensive experience, wisdom, and insight as they provide guidance through the pitfalls of executing major initiatives.

This role, termed “change practitioner,” is filled by professionals from a wide array of disciplines including change management, organizational development, HR, strategic planning, project management, IT, business relationship management, coaching, organizational design, and more. No matter their field of expertise, whether they function as internal specialists or external consultants, or if they work solo or as part of a team, if individuals help leaders navigate important transitions, they are considered change practitioners.

The ATA program is designed to prepare individuals to serve as High Impact Trusted Advisors (HITAs)—change practitioners who provide this kind of support to senior leaders. Some serve at the C-suite level (CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CIOs, CHROs, etc.), and some support key leaders below the top echelon, but all are advising executives with either enterprise-wide or major functional/geographic responsibilities.

HITAs have uncommon access to and influence with these top executives. They are considered instrumental resources, and their views are sought out whenever key initiatives come with significant risk and the price for a misstep is costly. They enjoy such respect from the leaders they serve that their counsel is regarded as a competitive advantage for the organization.

This kind of working relationship is evident when leaders:

  • proactively seek out a practitioner’s perspective and advice on a regular basis, even when that advice is uncomfortable to hear;
  • insist that the practitioner be at the table early in the planning for critical initiatives; and
  • act with confidence and courage on the practitioner’s recommendations, even when these actions are difficult, risky, or inconvenient.

Program Description

Objectives: The ATA experience has been designed specifically for experienced change practitioners who are eager to better understand and manage:

  • Common frustrations practitioners face when attempting to function as trusted advisors to senior executives
  • Challenges unique to working with senior executives
  • What it means to be fully prepared for the HITA role
  • How to operationalize HITA aspirations
  • The role of character and presence in HITA interactions

Design: ATA is conducted with a small collection of practitioners (limited to twelve practitioners) in a virtual learning environment. However, this program involves more than attending a series of cohort sessions. Yes, there are numerous participant meetings, but they are actually punctuation points to a much richer endeavor. There are three components to the program:

  • Phase I: Prior to each cohort meeting, participants receive a preparation assignment that includes readings to complete and questions to consider. In addition, participants complete numerous self-assessments to determine what assets and liabilities they possess that will influence their success as a HITA.
  • Phase II: Cohort Sessions—18 three-hour meetings take place one week apart and are filled with various discussions, exercises, role-plays, and other experiences designed to help participants examine how to build a strong working relationship with senior officers.
  • Phase III: Re-entry Activities— This phase is the culmination point toward which all the prior assignments and activities have led. During this segment, perspectives, observations, and insights that surfaced throughout the program are collected and used to formulate an action plan for incorporating what has been learned back into participants’ work environments.

Though there are many personal growth implications that emerge from the ATA program, this is primarily a professional development experience; thus, it is during these vital re-entry activities when participants identify how they are going to apply what they have learned to their change practice.

Topics: The primary areas of focus for the ATA readings and cohort sessions include:

Defining Attributes—Characteristics that differentiate HITA relationships from other types of interactions with top executives

Success Factors—Conditions that must be in place in order for the HITA rapport to emerge and flourish

Underlying Processes—Forces operating beneath the surface that either enhance or detract from forming deep, trusting partnerships with senior leaders

Necessary Mindsets—Practitioner frames of reference and priorities that have a bearing on one’s ability to successfully serve in the HITA role

Expectations—Guidelines and processes to help the practitioner and leader establish a clear and explicit understanding of what they should expect from one another in a successful advisory alliance

Pitfalls—Common challenges, entanglements, and dilemmas that can prevent, strain, and even sever the desired rapport

Self-Management—Perspectives and practices that cultivate the internal grounding practitioners need to serve as HITAs to senior executives

Leveraging Uniqueness—How a practitioner’s unique character and presence can elevate the trusted advisor relationship

This Is Not for Everyone

This is not a course of study for those new to facilitating change who are still building their basic foundation of concepts, tools, and techniques or those with only a casual interest in advancing their capabilities.

This is a professional development program intended for practitioners pursuing mastery of their craft.

To receive the intended value from ATA, the following should be true for you:

  • Your primary professional focus is fostering some aspect of individual, group, organizational, and/or societal change.
  • You have several years of experience facilitating the execution of significant change, as well as the scar tissue and lessons learned to show for it.
  • You have access to and are skilled in the use of one or more change implementation methodologies (concepts, tools, and techniques). It doesn’t matter which ones, as the Academy is methodology agnostic.
  • You are at a point in your career where you have attained a solid grounding in the basics of change facilitation, you are confident this is a professional capability you want to practice in greater depth, and you are prepared to engage in intensive introspection to identify strengths you can better leverage as well as areas of development you can pursue.

If the time has come to explore your interior landscape in order to have a greater external impact, ATA provides guidance, experiences, resources, and a community of fellow travelers.


The Advanced Trusted Advisor program is offered two times a year (spring/fall).

Virtual learning platform


For the 2022 Fall ATA session:

  • A 90-minute orientation session will take place on Friday, September 30
  • There are 18 sessions – The cohort will meet once a week except for breaks during the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays. Sessions are scheduled on Fridays starting at 11:00 AM (ET), with each one lasting three hours. The first session is slated for Oct 14, 2022, and the last one will take place on March 3, 2023.


  • 9/30…Orientation


  • 10/14: S-1
  • 10/21: S-2
  • 10/28: S-3
  • 11/04: S-4
  • 11/11:  S-5
  • 11/18: S-6
  • 12/02: S-7
  • 12/09: S-8
  • 12/16: S-9


  • 1/06: S-10
  • 1/13: S-11
  • 1/20: S-12
  • 1/27: S-13
  • 2/03: S-14
  • 2/10: S-15
  • 2/17: S-16
  • 2/24: S-17
  • 3/03: S-18

Practitioner Frustrations ATA Is Intended to Address

There are some common issues among change practitioners who, for whatever reason, haven’t secured trusted advisor status with the leaders they serve. Unless they can find ways to mitigate, if not eliminate, these kinds of hindrances, they have no hope of being seen as essential resources within an organization:

  • “I’m held accountable for making sure projects reach their intended outcomes despite leaders who can’t or won’t do what is necessary to ensure that success.”
  • “Instead of being considered a trusted advisor who offers insight and wisdom, too often I’m viewed as an extra pair of hands who will do as I’m told.”
  • “There are times I feel I have to choose between keeping my job and advocating for what I know is the right course of action to pursue.”
  • “I provide well-formulated recommendations, but leaders seldom fully follow through on them.”
  • “I am supposed to have a significant impact on the situations I’m asked to work on, but I’m expected to do so without making anyone uncomfortable, discussing issues people want to avoid, or suggesting that leadership could be part of the problem.”
  • “I’m not asked to bring my best thinking forward and offer leaders my true perspectives on problems or opportunities they are facing; instead, I’m expected to always reassure leaders that what they want to do is both correct and feasible.”

ATA provides the space for change practitioners to come to terms with issues of this nature and the guidance to overcome them.

Unique Challenges When Working with Senior Executives

There are special demands that come with serving the upper echelon, and HITAs must be prepared to manage them:

  • Maintaining confidential communications with the organization’s leaders will be an ongoing issue.
  • Your availability must be highly flexible. (When/where to talk or meet with executives may require heroic efforts.)
  • You cannot buffer yourself from the time constraints and political pressures leaders face—these stressors are inherent in the leader’s daily environment, and you, as a HITA, must learn to navigate this challenging terrain and deliver high value in spite of it.
  • Helping leaders sometimes see that they are part of the very problems you are asked to work on can make for difficult conversations.
  • It is important to understand and genuinely appreciate the competing pressures and conflicting demands leaders experience.
  • Top executives often feel isolated, misunderstood, and/or undervalued. Breaking through this sense of being “separate” is critical to establishing the rapport needed for HITA work.

Being Fully Prepared

When change practitioners are first given a chance to support senior officers, many fail to achieve the coveted HITA status. Their initial attempts at trying to serve in this role are not well received by the leader, and they aren’t invited back.

Typically, the problem isn’t one of not knowing what to address, misdiagnosing the situation at hand, or offering ill-conceived recommendations. Most practitioners who gain access to senior leaders are prepared to support them as far as what concepts, tools, and techniques to use. Where they fall short is knowing how to establish and maintain the rapport needed to create an exceptionally influential liaison with leaders.

When it comes to forming deep interpersonal bonds with top officers, there are certain dynamics at play that HITAs must attend to, particularly those underlying forces that either foster or hinder the practitioner’s ability to establish a meaningful connection (examples listed above). Without specific preparation for these kinds of difficulties, change practitioners are likely to fall short of becoming a leader’s confidante regarding important change endeavors. The depth of the link between leader and practitioner isn’t based solely on the content of the guidance being provided—it also depends on the nature of the relationship within which the guidance is conveyed.

It is who we are (not the methodologies we use) and the relationships we establish with leaders (not how intellectually sound our recommendations are) that ultimately determine whether we generate extraordinary value for senior leaders.

Operationalizing HITA Aspirations

For many practitioners, serving as a HITA to senior leaders is a coveted professional milestone but not something they know how to pursue. They realize there are change agents who advise top echelons, but they may never have seen one in action or may not know anyone who has advised in this capacity on a consistent basis. As a result, they know neither what the experience is like nor what is done to prepare oneself for such interactions.

This is precisely why ATA was created. It is a program for change professionals committed to realizing their HITA aspirations by operationalizing their intentions—moving from abstract concept to tangible accomplishment.

The Role of Character and Presence

HITAs know that they create value not only through what they do (the methodologies they employ) but through who they are (their character and presence).

  • Character is the practitioner’s true nature: what is left after all the trappings and illusions have been stripped away. Others can apply the same concepts and techniques, but no one can duplicate the outcomes a particular HITA produces when their character is fully expressed through their words and actions.
  • The HITA’s interior character needs a “voice” to be expressed to the exterior world. The presence he/she creates with leaders is that voice. It is the practitioner’s temperament that serves as the conduit through which their unique character is conveyed.

The ATA program has a strong focus on exploring how practitioners can use their character/presence to generate value for those they serve.

Virtual Learning Environment

There are two major benefits to having the ATA virtual learning sessions occur over a period of several weeks: 1) participants have time to “metabolize” or absorb the insights from a previous session as well as more time to prepare for and reflect on the next; and 2) participants can develop stronger connections over this longer timeframe than is the case with in-person formats delivered during compressed timeframes.

The value received from this program is highly dependent on the practitioner’s commitment to introspection and personal reflection. This can be seen in the learning atmosphere we create. The ATA learning environment is one that fosters two types of discovery: introspective (“What can I learn from how I currently operate with senior leaders?”) and generative (“What greater capabilities can I uncover within myself?”). Here, individuals can explore both types of discovery in a safe but challenging setting.
This means there are no seats on the bus for passive players—participants are expected to take full responsibility for their own learning.

  • The cohort sessions provide structure, guidance, experiences, resources, and a community of fellow travelers, but the nature and depth of whatever learning occurs is entirely in participants’ hands.
  • The program’s design is grounded in self-directed learning; individuals will uncover new ideas and solve problems they are facing through exposure to unfamiliar perspectives and various exploratory activities and experiences rather than being given answers.
  • The facilitator will serve as a context generator, question launcher, and provocateur, but all meaningful work will be done by the practitioners in response to these inducements.
  • In this sense, the ATA learning environment is like a retreat where participants uncover what there is for them to find rather than a typical educational program where furnished solutions are presented.