What makes a great Association President?

What makes a great Association President?

Maintaining management continuity is a challenge and a crucial responsibility for many associations, especially those reliant on volunteer boards.


Without a robust succession plan, the leadership landscape often undergoes seismic shifts with each new board instalment. For instance, in the case of Association X, a well-planned transition from one President to another ensured strategic direction continuity and maintained stakeholders' trust.


Drawing from nearly 30 years of experience as an Association CEO and consultant to Association and Not-For-Profit Boards, I have observed that the newly appointed President or chair's leadership behaviour is pivotal to an association's ongoing success.


If you are the President of your Association or are thinking of taking up that role, here are some of my insights and practical advice from coaching and advising numerous Association Presidents,


Embrace Role Clarity: Thoroughly understanding your role and responsibilities as President is not just imperative, it's empowering. Even if you previously served on the board, a seamless handover from your predecessor equips you with the knowledge and confidence to lead effectively.


Foster Communication with Executive Leadership:

Prioritise early meetings with the CEO or Executive Officer to gain insight into organisational goals, challenges, and key performance indicators. This open line of communication can help align the board's strategic decisions with the association's operational realities, fostering a more effective and efficient governance approach.


Understand Board Dynamics:

Investing time in understanding the expectations and objectives of fellow board members is not just a task but a valuable opportunity. You’re understanding and efforts in delving into their motivations, expectations, and aspirations can foster a cohesive and aligned governance approach and build strong relationships within the board.


Cultivate Collaborative Leadership:

Encourage collaboration and harmony among board members, steering clear of the hierarchical management style often prevalent in for-profit organisations. This can be done by fostering an environment of open communication where all board members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns. Focus on advancing the association's strategic goals and themes by setting up cross-functional teams to work on specific initiatives.


Forge Strong Partnerships:

Work closely with other office bearers, including the Treasurer, Secretary, or Vice President, to strengthen governance effectiveness and promote synergy within the leadership team. This can help ensure that all aspects of the association's operations are aligned with its strategic goals. However, it's important to balance collaboration and independence in each office bearer's role.

Here are some actions to avoid.


Avoid Transposing For-Profit Leadership Styles:
Resist the temptation to apply operational management approaches from the for-profit sector. Instead, champion a leadership style that prioritises collaboration, strategic focus, and inclusivity.


Avoid Micromanagement:
Trust in the expertise of the CEO or Executive Officer and refrain from micromanaging operational matters. Foster open communication and support their leadership while maintaining oversight responsibilities. Respond to facts and data not gut feelings.


 How long is your term
Assess the length of your tenure on the board to strike a balance between continuity and renewal. Avoid overly short or extended terms, ensuring alignment with constitutional requirements and succession planning principles.


Mastering the art of association leadership requires a strategic and nuanced approach. By embracing these guiding principles, incoming association presidents can navigate the complex terrain and foster continuity, collaboration, and long-term success. This will lay a robust foundation for their steward organisations, ensuring a legacy of effective leadership.

Association Executive Services provides an NFP Board President and CEO mentoring and coaching services. Contact us today to discuss how we can help.