All Articles Leadership Management Spotlight on Association Leadership: 4 critical skills to develop before 2020

Spotlight on Association Leadership: 4 critical skills to develop before 2020

3 min read


This guest post is by Shelly Alcorn, CAE, an association-management consultant. Reach her on Twitter @shellyalcorn, on LinkedIn or at the Association Subculture Blog.

This is the final post in a series exploring 10 critical skills that association leaders need to possess or develop in the next 10 years. Read about the first post and second post for six more skills you’ll need to have. These are taken from a recent report, “Future Work Skills 2020,” produced by the Institute for the Future and the University of Phoenix Research Institute.

Association leaders are faced with a continually changing environment and rapid changes in the workplace. As the next decade unfolds, there are a number of critical skills that need conscious attention and development. This is the last in a series of posts on leadership skills every staff member and volunteer should begin to develop.

Transdisciplinarity: Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines.

Associations have a deep competency in understanding their members’ industries and professions, and many have direct experience with challenges related to specialization. Many new associations have been born out of a desire on the part of a specialized group to find their own identity in a new collaborative setting. However, increased specialization also makes it less likely that any one association can deal with complex problems on its own. Developing a keen sense of when and how to bring disparate groups together to solve problems is a key competency association leaders must develop.

Design mindset: Ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes.

As associations become less about “producing things” and more about “leveraging ideas,” staff and volunteer leaders will need to look at all of their internal processes with a critical eye. If an increase in creativity is desired, shoving employees into cubicles will not help. If an increase in technological competency is desired, appropriate investment is required. Everything from the physical environment to work processes and tools will need to be elegant and well-designed to achieve optimal outcomes.

Cognitive load management: Ability to discriminate and filter information for importance and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques.

Many association executives have been complaining for some time about the feeling of “overload.” Unfortunately, the rate of information expansion is only accelerating this situation. Association leaders will need to develop competency in dealing with a “permanent” situation of overload, not just short-term strategies meant to help cope at the moment or to “get us through until vacation.”

Virtual collaboration: Ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.

The increase and rapid proliferation of “work anywhere” technology is making the debate about whether a person should come in at 8:00 or 8:30 anachronistic at best. Association leaders are in a great position to capitalize on these technologies both with office staff and with volunteer leaders. Using virtual workspaces to encourage cooperation and increased social cohesion with chapters and various volunteer components will only serve to increase the association’s relevance.