The role of secondary traumatic stress breakthrough champions in reducing worker trauma and improving organizational health using a configurational analysis approach

Ginny Sprang, Edward J. Miech, Stephanie Gusler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Emerging research has demonstrated that organizational efforts at becoming secondary traumatic stress (STS)-informed can improve the overall well-being of the workforce, especially when implementation activity by a champion team is high. Questions remain, however, regarding the mechanisms that enable these improvements. Method: This study uses configurational analysis to determine necessary and sufficient conditions to produce reductions in STS symptoms in workers as well as organizational improvements toward being more STS-informed in a cohort survey of 6,033 professionals working with individuals exposed to trauma representing 52 organizations. The Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed Organizational Assessment (STSI-OA) was used to measure professional's perceptions of how well the unit addressed secondary trauma in the workplace, and the Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale (STSS) assessed traumatic stress symptoms in respondents. Champions' activity was scored using the categories suggested by Shea. Results: For the STSS outcome, either a STSI-OA positive increase of 10 or more points or high levels of champion problem-solving were independently sufficient for an improvement in the outcome. The STSI-OA model had two pathways: high levels of peer engagement via the scaling up of innovations using PDSAs or the combination of facilitation of peer knowledge and skills together with working in a child welfare organization. Either pathway was sufficient by itself to yield the STSI-OA outcome. Conclusions: Identifying and cultivating the champions' use of problem-solving and peer engagement strategies can transform the threat posed by indirect trauma exposure into an opportunity for shared experience and healing. Plain Language Summary: Organizational champions are individuals or teams that strive to promote change within their workplace. These champions are integral to spreading innovative ideas and strategies and creating organization-wide changes (Powell et al., 2015). However, little is known about the processes or specific strategies that make champions successful. One area in which champions are needed is in improving organizations' response to and understanding of secondary traumatic stress (STS), among those in helping professions that are indirectly exposed to trauma through the traumatic stories of those they work with. In fact, research has shown that organizational efforts to address STS improve the well-being of individual professionals within that organization (Sprang et al., 2021). The present study sought to better understand what champion-related processes or conditions led to organizational change in addressing the effects of indirect exposure and improving symptoms related to STS. Results showed that organizational change in addressing STS and champions' problem-solving strategies resulted in reductions in individual professionals' STS symptoms. Furthermore, champions' use of peer engagement or sharing of knowledge among peers in child welfare settings led to improvements at an organizational level. These results show that organization-level change can have a direct impact on individual well-being and there are specific champion activities that can promote this change. Specifically, results demonstrate a need to identify and support champions' use of problem-solving and peer engagement strategies to turn the individual and organizational threat posed by indirect trauma into an opportunity for shared healing.

Original languageEnglish
JournalImplementation Research and Practice
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was funded in part by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administrations (5H79SM082826, Sprang PI).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • champions
  • configurational analysis
  • organizational change
  • secondary traumatic stress
  • worker trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Neurology


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