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Role Models

Interview with Saska Benedicic Tomat

By 19 February 2020No Comments
Saska Benedicic Tomat speaks about leadership for SWinG
Together We Build Dreams

You can’t lead with titles. You can’t lead with rules. You can’t lead with words. You lead with trust, compassion, listening, and by example.

Role Model ID Card
  • Name:Saska Benedicic Tomat
  • Country: Slovenia
  • Organisation:Sport Club Partizan Škofja Loka
  • Elected position: President
  • How long have you been in your current position? 20 years

To begin with, please tell us a little about yourself.

Saska Benedicic Tomat: My professional life has been dedicated to the position of the International Projects leader with the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA) already for 12 years. My passion for sport and physical activity is localized in Sport club Partizan, in a small Slovenian town, where I live. It is a great pleasure to think globally, and act locally.


Can you tell us about your “Why”  and how you came to leadership position?

SBT: I believe that being physically active is the key to our wellbeing, both physically and mentally. 

My passion is to share and transfer the knowledge and experience from person to person, city to city, and country to country. Sport and physical activity can break down social barriers and increase participation in sports amongst everyone, regardless of their physical abilities, gender, nationality, culture. 

With my small contribution on a local level, as well as in my professional life – on a global level, I see that with small steps and some time we can make changes. This enables me to have a strong understanding of what drives and motivates people around me – my colleagues and friends. 

But what drives me the most is my family, and the relationship with my three kids (who are not kids anymore ). The opportunity I had to teach them what is important in life – how to take responsibilities, how to recognize challenges and find solutions. Easy to say, harder to do!


What is it you want to achieve and what made you decide on your professional and personal pathway?

Saska Benedicic Tomat: As a leader, I help the local club with developing its strategic future, and its team members to develop their strengths and skills. It is all based on teamwork. 

I like the environment that is not as competitive, but is rather more cooperative and family-like. But still, with a solid leadership. This is what makes local clubs successful in moving people! 

The city where I live is the most active city in Slovenia. It is surrounded by mountains, fields, and forests, which give a very healthy environment to all citizens to be active. Not just in the club, but also outdoors, all year around. When I meet active people in the gym, on the street or out in the forest or mountains, they tell me: “I am doing this because you motivated me so many years ago.”

This change I can feel means a lot to me and motivates me to keep going.


How do you achieve your goals and keep up with the fast-changing society?

SBT: I didn’t decide to become a leader. I was invited to become one by the people who believed in my skills and my competences. There were never any, and still aren’t, external barriers around me as a women leader. 

I have been facing some personal barriers that were more connected to my emotional mind and heart. Having leadership positions in various sport organisations, and later becoming a president of the local club, brought changes to my life. 

Professional life, personal life and my leadership skills are all a part of me. I don’t decide between being a leader on one side, and then a mother and a wife at home. Not at all. I need both – and I need to balance well. However, my professional life must sometimes stay in a box, so I can fully enjoy my personal time.

What is the most important: 

  • wearing different hats in one day and learning about emotional intelligence;
  • listening and understanding what others are saying, as well as sharing and asking;
  • demonstrating passion, enthusiasm and capacity to serve and help.

I would also like to underline that thinking ahead is important. Today for tomorrow, tomorrow for next week, next week for next month and this year for the next. Planning! Planning personal and professional life is the core for all women, especially for leaders. 

Most of my work happens at a distance, between people who are very far from me and from each other. I work with ‘virtual teams and virtual relationships’. Where people come together for a limited time, have never worked together before, and will never be in the same room. It is a challenge. I need much more time under these circumstances to pay extra attention to the energy on the other side and find out where my support is needed.


Who inspires you? And why?

Saska Benedicic Tomat: I get inspired by people. 

People who have ability to decisively and quickly respond to simultaneous and different tasks, or problems, at a time, and not lose the sense of having fun. 

People who have different cultural backgrounds and try to understand different communication and working styles. 

People who share the same passion for making changes in everyone’s lives by helping, advising, supporting.    

I have come across differences in ‘male’ and ‘female’ leadership. When a man is asked to take responsibility or leadership role, that usually just lean in and say: “Yeah, sure, I can do it.” While a woman in the same position will reply: “Thanks a lot for the offer. Please give me some time to think about it.” 

But for me, there is no such thing as ‘male’ or ‘female’ leadership. There is just leadership. It is about relationships, working together, navigating activities, overcoming barriers, and being innovative in order to get things done.

A short story:

  • What do you get when you put 100 leaders in a room? 
  • Not much!

When you put more leaders together to do the work we can get a lot of self-promotion, separate agendas, arguments… Not much real work gets done. Followership is essential; there is no leadership without followership.

When asked about her leadership journey, #Saska, @Isca_Tweet Project leader and partner in the #SWinG project, says 'I have asked myself many times: ‘Can I do it?’. 🤔 YES, even #GameChangeHer are having doubt!


What kind of resources has proven to be the best help throughout your journey ? And where did you find them?

SBT: The most important resources for me are my skills and competences, as well as people that I am working with – the power is in them, and the local organisation and community. I am not afraid of learning by doing and by making mistakes. I try to catch life balance, to empower emotional intelligence and empathy, to be motivated for a strategic vision, and to be optimistic, creative and honest.


When did your leadership story begin and where is it now?

SBT: I can not connect the dots from where I have started to where I am today. It was impossible to control all the variables of decision making when I was younger, when I became a mother, and even now. Most of the time, I felt like I was not in the right moment for more. I have asked myself many times: ‘Can I do it?’. 

Done is better than perfect. Success is making the best choice and accepting it. When I have finally learned this, that’s when I knew I was on the right path.

I have been the lucky one with all professional and volunteering positions in my life. I have always been invited to apply for a position and always elected

It was not because I am so special, it was because other people saw something in me that was needed at that moment and at that place and I was there. I was not born as a leader. I was shaped by the experience, with having nature’s head start.


What was the most difficult challenge you had to overcome in your election journey? How did you overcome it?

SBT: It was hard for me to get a female mentor. Most of my mentors were men. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, they were all great to work with. I just felt that it would’ve been helpful to have someone closer to me, closer to ‘my soul’. It was very difficult to find one, but I did ☺.


Finally, what words of advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Saska Benedicic Tomat: You can’t lead with titles. Neither with rules. You can’t lead with words. You lead with trust, compassion, listening, and by example. Don’t back down when you see a challenge. They make you stronger, give you immense satisfaction, and renew your confidence in your skills and abilities. If you want to reach the top, you need to start by acknowledging that your career will not always be smooth-sailing. And be polite!

Ignore: influence of social media, communication via text messages, complainers, people who are impolite and angry, and people that don’t listen.

Do: Be the change you want to see in the world, or as Michael Jackson sang ‘I am starting with the man in the mirror.’


Would you like to be kept informed as regard the SWinG project? Please get in touch with us!

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