CEO to CEO: Departmental Involvement and Career Path

Staying involved in departments' work and the path to an association management career.

How do you stay involved in what's going on in each of your association's departments?

From a small-staff perspective, being connected with my staff is critical. We are always moving at a fast pace, and time is of the essence. We use our staff meetings to update each other about what is going on in the organization and provide information and training about our products and services. We use our instant-messaging system regularly and are good about sharing updates by email as well. I also make sure to talk to each staff person on a regular basis, to ensure that everyone is working toward the same strategic goals.

—Bonnie Fedchock, executive director, National Association of Catering Executives, Columbia, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

We've intentionally kept our staff small as the organization grew. The American School Counselor Association went from 9,000 members and a $1.5 million budget in 2000 to 30,000 members and a
$5.5 million budget today, but the staff only grew from seven in 2000 to nine today. This allows all of us to contribute to every project and focus on work as a whole. We have weekly "touch-base" meetings and monthly full-staff meetings. The entire staff stays involved with each department because each department is just one person, and those people are seldom more than 50 feet away from one another.

—Kwok-Sze Richard Wong, executive director, American School Counselor Association, Alexandria, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

Regular check-ins with team leaders are important to ensure progress, spot problems, and identify additional areas of inquiry. It's also helpful to spend time with all levels of staff to learn about your key business processes, challenges, opportunities, and barriers to progress. It's a substantial investment of time, but the learning is invaluable and folks will appreciate your interest in the day-to-day realities of the enterprise. Asking good questions and posing insightful "what ifs" can also yield some interesting insights. The goal is an ongoing, two-way dialogue that fosters learning and application of good ideas—big and small.

—Joel Albizo, CAE, executive director, Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards, Reston, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

As an executive director, I keep staff involved in what's happening at the board and strategic-planning levels and aware of what's happening externally that is relevant to the association. We have regular staff meetings where each person talks about what they are doing, and where everyone can ask questions. Those meetings are relatively informal, but they always deliver value for time.

—Joseph Cavarretta, executive director, American Academy of Environmental Engineers, Annapolis, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

What led you to a career in association management?

While I have been a theatre person my whole life, I worked in the corporate world for 20 years. I stumbled across a job posting for the Educational Theatre Association on a theatre-community email group. EdTA's mission fit perfectly with my personal passion for theatre and its power to build the self-esteem of children. EdTA is an established, growing, national organization that just happened to be headquartered in my hometown of Cincinnati! While I have had to face some challenges coming from outside the nonprofit world, I believe my business experience is just what the organization needs to go to the next level. It was meant to be.

—Julie Woffington, executive director, Educational Theatre Association, Cincinnati. Email: [email protected]

I grew up in a state capital, and a family friend who ran a state association hired me as an intern during my Christmas break when I was a sophomore in college. I was a political science major and had a great interest in government and policy. That experience gave me exposure to associations much earlier than most, and I was fortunate to then have an opportunity to interview for a membership position with the state bar association while I was finishing my graduate studies. They hired me, and almost 20 years later I'm still enjoying a career in association management.

—Christie A. Tarantino, CAE, President & CEO, Association Forum of Chicagoland, Chicago. Email: [email protected]

I wandered into association work in pursuit of continuing my career in communications. I was hired to build a media program. Soon after, by necessity, I donned different hats and learned that association work meant jumping out of one function and assuming another, rallying the troops to make projects happen, learning new skills overnight, and evolving into a well-rounded professional. I have learned firsthand how associations work to build consensus of divergent opinions on issues for the good of the whole. I have learned about the power of a collective voice in advocacy and how associations can transform society for the better, not only in their own niche but on a larger scale as well. Association management professionals have a passion for the causes they represent.

—Joanne S. Barry, CAE, executive director, New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, New York. Email: [email protected]

Two words: leadership development. As the general manager of a private-sector firm with a freshly minted master's degree in hand, I wanted to expand my opportunities to influence a broader array of leaders and managers in organizational change. In a company, you get to influence one organization. In an association, your efforts and energies influence hundreds and perhaps thousands of firms, their executive teams, and staff. While I had never actually considered a career in association management, when the opportunity arose to join a trade group representing an industry in the midst of enormous technological transition, it was an easy choice.

—Kerry C. Stackpole, president, Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic, Columbia, Maryland. Email: [email protected]