All Articles Leadership Management Spotlight on Association Leadership: Critical skills you'll need to prepare for 2020

Spotlight on Association Leadership: Critical skills you’ll need to prepare for 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 first in a series of three posts exploring critical skills association leaders will need to possess or develop in the next 10 years. 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 volunteer and staff leaders are continually faced with unique challenges in their operating environments. The development of skills to help navigate in disruptive environments is critical. In addition, association leaders need to hone in and amplify the strengths they naturally possess and decide which ones they, their staffs or their volunteers need to focus on.  Here are the first three of 10 areas to consider actively exploring when looking at allocating available professional development dollars.

Sense making: Ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed.

In many cases, association executives are already pretty good at this, but over the next few years will need to get even better. The shift between humans doing repetitive, mechanized work to machines doing so has not been limited to the assembly lines. Every area of the employment landscape has been affected by mechanization and with advanced robotics the trend shows no sign of slowing.

The result is an urgent need to consistently do what only humans can do — use critical thinking and sense-making skills to help establish meaning and derive critical insights about programs, members and volunteers.

Social intelligence: Ability to connect to others in a deep and different way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.

Associations already have an excellent track record at developing networks and providing a platform for the development of community. Social intelligence is the next generation of those skills. Most community building endeavors focus on the “professional face” of the member, not necessarily on embracing the entire person.

In the future, association community building enterprises will need to become more sophisticated with pursuing emotional connection on a deeper, more personal level and intentionally guiding those interactions to produce satisfying outcomes for members, volunteers and staff.

Novel and adaptive thinking: Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based.

Associations, as much as people might think otherwise, are hotbeds for creativity and highly attuned to novel, adaptive thinking. Often, financial constraints combined with the ability to manage decision-making processes in groups can lead to innovative leaps.

However, associations are like most organizations when it comes to a strict adherence to policy and “automatic” answers to inquiries. These are no longer dependable responses to stress within the system. Association leaders must develop an affinity for creatively responding in the moment — not after months of discussion. It is time to push volunteers and staff to become not only comfortable with, but able to fearlessly capitalize on, novel situations.

Next week, we’ll discuss three more skills that association leaders need to succeed in the next 10  years.