How Do CAEs Stay in the Know?

By: Kim Schardin, MBA, CAE, and Angela R. Davis, CAE

Once you've passed the exam and earned your CAE, how do you stay sharp? Here are a few ideas for association executives who want to continue on the road of self-improvement.

It's true that the CAE is a symbol of your expertise and accomplishment as an association professional, but how do you stay at the top of your game? Do you re-read course materials, pop in on a local study group, or pull out your flash cards on your commute? Unlikely.

Reality is that we don't know everything, but we know where to find it or how to create it.


Assuming you hire the best, your team is a great resource. Been a while since you planned a meeting? The staff Certified Meeting Professional or experienced meeting manager is the person to ask. Bonus: This creates a collaborative, team environment in the office.

Peer to Peer

Ask ASAE. Why not go to the very source for association management? Collaborate, ASAE's online community puts the expertise of more than 20,000 association professionals at your fingertips 24/7. Building your professional network is imperative. Before reinventing the wheel, reach out to your colleagues, because you never know who already crossed the bridge you are approaching. Bonus: Not only do you strengthen your network, you gain another perspective and can even save time.

Local Chapters, Office Peers

Obtain local input. Access to ASAE and its members is invaluable. However, you can also get involved with your local society of association executives. It's likely that certain aspects of your job are germane to your location (e.g., city, county, state), so tap into your local network of colleagues to find answers. Bonus: You continue to build your professional network.

Obtain internal input. Many times reviewing ideas or situations with your office peers can be advantageous. Not only does your office have skilled professionals, but they too understand the association at hand. Bonus: There it is again—collaboration. Having an office culture of collaboration cultivates an environment that encourages continuous improvement.

Vendor Relations

Challenge your contractors to innovate as well as collaborate. Tired of the same exhibit hall layout? Ask your drayage company to provide options based on the latest trends. Bonus: Not only did you encourage collaboration and innovation with your vendors, but your meeting has a new look and feel (all within budget, of course).


No matter where you are in your career, a mentor can be the influential and supportive sounding board you need. While you accomplished much in your career, you recognize there are always opportunities and people from whom to learn. You can seek a mentor within or outside your organization. Resist the mentality that you have "arrived;" you should view your career as a journey, not a final destination.

Lifelong Learner

Go back to school, attend conferences and workshops, regularly make time to read professional journals, blogs, and listservers, and network.

And be sure to give back, too. Think you don't have a solution to offer on the listserver? Set aside time to brainstorm solutions on a particular topic. Better yet, include an issue for discussion in staff meetings to help keep everyone's mind sharp and thinking outside the box. Bonus: In addition to collaborating with your colleagues, approaching situations collectively can provide synergy. Bonus: The sum is greater than its parts.

Need to Create a Solution?

Frameworks help. Balanced scorecards, association self-audits, emotional intelligence, "5 Why," and fish-bone diagrams (cause and effect) are all wonderful tools to clarify the situation and focus on the solutions. Bonus: You create a customized solution and become an expert in yet another area, and these solutions are also suitable for sharing.

Kim Schardin, MBA, CAE, is an executive director at Executive Director, Inc., in Milwaukee, and Angela R. Davis, CAE, is director of operations at International Meeting Managers, Inc., in Houston. Email: [email protected], [email protected]

Kim Schardin, MBA, CAE, and Angela R. Davis, CAE