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Lecturer in Public Policy

Tim O’Brien is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is Faculty Chair of the Leadership for the 21st Century program (L21). Tim also teaches two degree courses: Exercising Leadership: The Politics of Change and Developing People: Individual & Systemic Capacity Building.  

Tim’s research interests focus on the complex challenges people hope to address, the understanding they bring, and the meaning-making they need to address those challenges. This lens on leadership development emphasizes self, group and organizational awareness over content and skills. How to develop and cultivate that self-awareness is the primary concern of Tim’s research. His teaching methods are experiential, collaborative and reflective in nature and help participants develop the insight and inquiry they need to meet the demands of the challenges they face.

In addition to the L21 program and his degree courses, Tim directs leadership development programs and workshops for state government, multinationals, non-profits and foundations. In this work he helps leaders orchestrate systemic interventions and overcome powerful status quos that resist learning, innovation, and adaptation. His teaching, training, coaching and consultancy practice is built on the fundamentals of his research - that all people and organizations can learn and develop with the right balance of supports and challenges. He also speaks on the challenges of developing leadership capacity alongside management skills.

Before his appointment at HKS, Tim was a leadership consultant for INSEAD Business School's Management Acceleration Program and faculty for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Programs in Professional Education. Tim holds a B.S. from NYU and an Ed.M and Ed.D from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Human Development and Education. He is a member of The Academy of Management and The A.K. Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems. He earned his 100-ton captains license directing sail-training programs aboard traditionally-rigged wooden schooners in the Atlantic and Caribbean.

Executive Education Programs

Transparent Engagement

Harvard Kennedy School is proud of its energetic involvement in the world. To better understand how to solve public problems by improving policy and leadership, we engage directly with policymakers, public leaders, governments, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit businesses whose activities affect those problems. However, we recognize that such engagement can raise questions about perceived and potential conflicts of interest, so we disclose publicly the key professional activities of our faculty outside the Kennedy School.

Outside Professional Activities For Timothy O'Brien

In an effort to learn from and contribute to impact on policy, leader development and organizational development, I occasionally consult, coach, train, speak and organize research efforts with tri-sector clients directly or oversee projects through my firm. These activities always adhere to Harvard and HKS policies for outside professional activities. These activities do not constrain or limit my academic freedom in any way. Instead, these activities fuel my interest, sharpen my teaching and ground my work. They require me to make important connections between research, policy, and practice. 

California Public Utilities Commission, California State Government. Consultant and trainer on leadership and organizational learning. 2016. Paid.

Office of the First Deputy Prime Minister, Government of Bahrain. Trainer on leadership development for fellowship program. 2016-present. Paid.

Fairtrade International, fair practices non-profit. Advisor on organizational development projects. 2017-present. Paid. 

Federal Executive Institute, US Government executive training, Trainer on leadership development. 2017. Paid.

Andreas G. Papandreou Foundation, family foundation. Trainer and speaker for Young Leaders Program. 2017-present. Unpaid.

Broad Institute, health sciences research institute. Consultant, trainer, and coach on leadership development programming. 2018-present. Paid.

Volkswagen, automobile manufacturer. Advisor on human resource development programming. 2018-2019. Paid.

DPDHL, transportation and shipping company. Speaker on leadership development. 2019. Paid.

World Bank Ukraine, development organization. Advisor on training and programming. 2019. Paid.



Phone: 617-496-9264


Education, Training & Labor
Public Leadership & Management

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Harvard Kennedy School
79 John F. Kennedy St.
Cambridge, MA 02138