Monday, April 4, 2016
Association Professionals Are Experts
At the social dinner the night before the workshop I met many members of my association I hadn't had the chance to meet before. When talking about our backgrounds, I described how, unlike most of them, I was not an engineer and, prior to coming to my current association, I had had no exposure to our industry and its technology. My bachelor degree is in English Literature, I told them, and I'm an association professional, serving as the deputy executive director of a professional medical specialty society before taking the reins at my current association.
This led to a lot of good-natured ribbing from my engineering colleagues, especially when it was revealed that my previous association had been a group of allergists. It was springtime in Atlanta, after all, and several of the folks around the table (including myself) were suffering from our first taste of seasonal allergies.
"Well, if nothing else, maybe you can provide us with some allergy relief tips during the session tomorrow?" That was typical of the jokes at my expense that were offered (all in good fun). Obviously, I didn't have any technical expertise that could help them achieve the task that has been set for them.
Fast forward to the following day and the workshop itself. After a series of technical presentations on some emerging technologies in our space, we broke into a series of breakouts, one on each of the presented technologies, where a smaller group could deep dive and identify the best leverage points for our roadmap. I was on-hand to facilitate one of these breakouts, which I did with my usual curiosity and directness.
After nearly ten years in my position, I'm still no engineer nor expert, but I've come to understand enough about our industry and its technologies to ask intelligent questions. As an association executive, I've facilitated dozens of sessions like this one, so I was sure not to let any one voice dominate the conversation and listened carefully for areas of true consensus. And, as a communications professional, I'm skilled at composing and organizing content on the fly, so I used my laptop and an LCD projector to present and test the concepts in real-time.
When it was done, I got a round of applause. One of the participants (someone who was joking with me at dinner the night before) told me that he believed me being a non-technical-expert actually helped the process.
"Having you as our facilitator forced us to speak in plain English, not in jargon, to make sure the ideas were being captured correctly. And you pushed us, making us answer questions we hadn't initially considered."
I was humble with the praise he offered me. But inside I knew that being an association professional meant that I was supposed to bring these skills to the table. Because association professionals are experts, not necessarily in the industries or professions they represent, but in the process of organizing and helping those industries or professions advance themselves.
It was a good day, spring allergies notwithstanding.
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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.