Component relations professionals (CRPs) love their jobs. But, you’re an ambitious bunch, and many of you have C-suite aspirations.
Sharon Kneebone, CAE, executive director at the National Society for Histotechnology (NSH), spoke to the Association Component Exchange (CEX) audience about her journey to the C-suite. She started as a chapter executive director in an association management company, and made stops in governance, membership, and component relations before becoming the executive director at NSH.
Here’s her advice for CRPs who want to move into an executive position.
Good news: CRPs and CEOs rely on the same skills
You already rely on a wide range of skills in your work with components:
- Leadership development
- Board management and strategic planning
- Volunteer management
- Public speaking
- Finance and operations
CEOs rely upon these same skills. You also have varying degrees of fluency in membership, professional development, marketing, event planning, technology, and more—experience that will serve you well in the C-suite.
CRPs lead from the bottom up while CEOs lead from the top down. Both roles drive strategy and mission forward for the greater good. To prepare yourself for the C-suite, Sharon suggested honing these skills.
#1: Build trusted partnerships
The board’s role is to set the vision and strategic direction for the organization. To successfully implement the strategic plan, the CEO must build a trusted partnership with the board.
Here’s the CRP advantage. You have experience building trust and partnerships, especially in “turnaround” situations where the “us vs. them” mentality is prevalent. Many of you have developed strategies to rebuild trust with chapters and shift attitudes at National.
Communication builds trust. Continue being a good listener, exhibiting empathy, and providing transparency.
#2: Adopt a strategic mindset
CRPs work with chapters, but for National. Finding the balance is challenging. You can’t be perceived as solely aligned with the chapter point-of-view. You’re responsible for bringing the chapter perspective to National, but must also drive National’s strategic vision at the chapter level.
Build the skills needed for the CEO position by helping chapter boards with their strategic plans and KPIs.
#3: Talk like the C-suite
Sharon suggested learning how to speak the C-suite’s language. Show them how your budget request will help the association achieve its objectives. Quantify the return in dollars—that’s what Patrick Algyer, CVA, director of volunteer relations at the Global Business Travel Association, does. His CEO speaks the language of numbers and ROI, so Patrick has to show chapter ROI in dollars.
To move into the C-suite, you must move beyond mastering your department’s budget and reports. Become fluent with data. Understand financial strategy. Learn how to translate financial reports. You must be able to communicate with boards about the financial health of their organization.
#4: Highlight the impact of your work
“Components are the secret sauce to membership,” said Amy Lestition Burke, MA, CAE, executive director at the Special Libraries Association and vice president member engagement at MCI USA. She advised CEX attendees to not be shy about sharing ideas and highlighting opportunities. Talk about the impact chapters are making on the membership experience—and the impact you’re making on the association and its chapters.
#5: Lead with social influence
Sharon’s favorite leadership quote is from Kevin Kruse, author and professor of history at Princeton, who said leadership has nothing to do with titles or seniority.
“Leadership is a process of social influence that maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of the goal.”
When you lead, manage, persuade, and motivate chapter leaders and committee members, you’re using your social influence, not authority or power. You have the ability to get the best out of others in the pursuit of mutual goals.
The CRP position has long been a training ground for CEOs. You practice the same skills and implement many of the same strategies. Sharon said, “CRPs and CEOs are catalysts. The CEO works with the board, while you work with chapters. You’re both helping different cogs in the wheel of your organization move forward.”