Having the right people in place can make or break your association. You need staff members who are knowledgeable, professional and dedicated. Without those qualities, your association can’t thrive.

The key piece of your personnel puzzle: the chief staff officer. Many feel this person needs deep knowledge of the industry. But what will likely serve your association better is association management skills, rather than industry knowledge. For example, say you’re running an engineering association. An engineer would bring the same industry knowhow your members already have. What they might not have–and what you truly need–is association management skill.

Here are factors you should consider when selecting the best professional for the job.

Volunteer experience

Association leadership frequently interacts with people who aren’t paid for their contributions. Your staff leader should have experience in that area. Helpful qualities include solid communication skills, and a deep understanding and respect for the board’s and staff’s roles. Central to that understanding is knowing when to lead, and a willingness to let others lead when appropriate. I think of these two characteristics as leadership and “followship”. They also need to appreciate that volunteers face time constraints. Volunteers are donating their time. Staff should honor and understand your volunteers’ that contribution.

Non-profit knowledge

There are a ton of laws and regulations impacting associations. Does your staff exec know and understand the tax laws that govern associations? Can they explain anti-trust laws? What employment discrimination rules apply to you? A qualified staff executive knows all of this, and more. This information guards your group against potential pitfalls. A knowledgeable exec stops problems before they start.

Association participation

The world of association management constantly evolves. Executives must keep up with the latest developments, technology and best practices. Check to ensure your staff executive engages with their professional association{s) to stay sharp and informed.

Marketing know-how

All that hard work leading an association proves for naught if you don’t share info with members. Your staff needs to grasp the need for strong marketing practices and messages. Only a leader that understands the importance of effective communication and marketing can execute it.

Customer-first philosophy

In the association management industry, the member is king. Does your staff understand it? Association staff must multi-task with projects and deadlines while remaining focused on the big picture. That means ensuring the myriad needs and interests of your members remain top of mind, always.

Hiring top-notch staff executives poses a complex, confusing challenge. Don’t hesitate to contact Frontline for advice. As an AMC Institute-accredited organization, we’re qualified to offer guidance, and we’re always happy to talk.