Apart from research and teaching, another important facet in the work of a Sámi culture professor is the social mission, which also entails public appearances.
After his doctoral degree, Lehtola was appointed assistant professor of Sámi and northern cultures and history in the University of Oulu (1999-2003). At the beginning of 2004, the post was changed into an acting professorship of Sámi culture, which became a permanent post in 2005. Lehtola gave his inaugural lecture ”Challenges in Sámi cultural research” in Sámi with Finnish slides.
Along with his professorship, Lehtola worked as director of the Giellagas institute in 2006-2008 and chairman of Sámi Institute board, located in Koutokeino in Norway, in 2005-2007. In 2009, he was senior research fellow in the Academy of Finland.
Lehtola has worked as project manager in two five-year projects of the Thule institute, studying the Sámi and Nenets people’s changing relations to the use of nature and the cultural environment. From 1998, Lehtola has also worked as docent of northern cultural history in the University of Lapland. He is an editorial council member of the Sámi dieđalaš áigečálá (Sámi Scientific Journal) series.