What if there were merit badges for component relations professionals (CRPs)—what skills would they recognize? During the Association Component Exchange (CEX), we asked our resident association chatter, KiKi L’Italien, to talk with attendees about the component relations skills and traits they rely upon to succeed at their job.
You might know KiKi from her role as host of Association Chat or consultant at Tecker International, but did you know she was once a CRP too? She felt at home in the room full of CRPs at CEX, the one-day conference for CRPs we co-host with Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle of Mariner Management. We recorded KiKi’s conversations and captured the highlights in this five-part series of posts.
- What people think CRPs do and what CRPs really do
- What CRPs love about their work
- Challenges faced and impact made by CRPs
- The CRP secret sauce: necessary skills and traits
- Advice for future CRPs and the future CRP role
Necessary component relations skills & traits—the CRP secret sauce
CRPs are the true Renaissance men and women of the association world. The portfolio of skills they need to succeed is astounding. No wonder so many CRPs end up in the C-suite. Although, given how much they love their work, it’s not surprising that many of them are CRPs for life. KiKi asked them about the skills and traits they need to do their job.
Nimble jugglers and chameleons who wear many hats
I dare you to put that on your resume!
Emily Jennings, Manager of Chapter Support & Development at the Community Associations Institute (CAI) said, “I look at myself as a chameleon… I have to adapt to whatever situation I’m going into. I may have to put on my authoritative hat, brainstormer hat, or strategist hat. I fit into whatever scenario the chapters need.”
David Bond, Associate Executive Director at the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA), talked about having to balance the needs of different stakeholders. For example, if a member (teacher) calls with a problem, “Sometimes we have to work with school district leaders to help that teacher resolve the issue or address the concern.”
This common scenario requires a good relationship with district leaders, but, David said, “Our allegiance is to our members, the teachers, and that’s where sometimes the worlds collide. We have to be clear about whom we’re advocating for and why. But we also have to foster relationships with school district leaders so we can help them solve problems and help our members solve problems.”
KiKi recalled working with different personalities in situations where a CRP has to be “part diplomat, part educator, part representative, where you have to wear all of these hats and dance a very delicate dance.”
She said CRPs must “understand internal politics, external politics, communication, how to interact with different people, power dynamics and hierarchies—that’s a lot for someone to understand and apply. With all these different aspects of being a CRP at play, it can be frustrating to feel like that role is undervalued or underappreciated.”
David said the most successful CRPs organize their time well but are people people too. “Sometimes the highly organized people aren’t the people people and vice versa. But we want people who can make a quick connection with others and understand their needs. They must be able to compare what they’re hearing against the services we provide and connect those dots pretty quickly.”
Amanda Scharff, Manager of Chapters and Partner Relations at the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE), said team-building is a valuable trait. “You have to figure out who has the best skill set in the room. So, if my skill set is bringing everyone together, is someone better at analytics? Is someone better at membership? Whom do I need to talk to if I want to get everyone together and on the same page?”
“You have to be a people person. It’s all about relationships in this industry, building relationships, learning how people tick so you can motivate them to do the things you need them to do. Encouraging people is a big piece of it as well.”
KiKi described the “secret magic of what CRPs do” as “a lot of relationship building, handholding, and training and development.”
Good listener who can connect the dots—and people
Amanda also believes listening is huge. “Listening to challenges, listening to success stories, listening to everything in between and trying to figure out how to put all these professionals together who are on different sides of the country. Some of our members are in Seattle, some are in Hawaii, some are in DC—they’re all having similar challenges. How do I connect the dots and show them, ‘Hey, this is what Seattle’s doing. This is what another chapter’s doing.’ It’s about connecting the dots.”
Communicator and trust builder
“Communication is number one,” said Patrick Algyer, former CRP and now Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Apartment Association (NVAA). “Diversify your communication strategy and tactics—not everybody communicates or learns the same way. You have to find a middle ground. You may not get 100% connection, but you can try to disseminate information in a way so everyone can digest it or find out more.”
Amanda added, “CRPs must be transparent with members and association staff when discussing issues.” Frequent, candid communication with chapter leaders is necessary if you want to build trust.
“The trust issue is so important because people are doubting institutions that have been in place for years—Boy Scouts, police departments, governments, journalism,” said KiKi. “Now they’re looking to associations and their local chapters to provide something they can believe in.”
Your personal benchmark report
As you look over this list of essential CRP traits, how do you compare? Where are you strong? Where do you need to improve? Now, the important question: How are you going to acquire and improve those skills?
Change like this isn’t easy. First, you have to find resources to help you develop new competencies. Ask your boss or fellow CRPs what they would suggest. A few options come to mind:
- Volunteer opportunities that provide training and experience
- Coaching sessions
- Virtual or in-person educational programs
Then, you have to put yourself in situations where you can practice these new skills—and be kind to yourself when you don’t always measure up to your expectations. Stretching can hurt but it’s a good kind of hurt as long as you don’t snap anything in the process.
Speaking of benchmarks, have you seen our 2019 Chapter Benchmarking Report? Another co-production with Mariner Management, this report helps your association benchmark your chapter programs against others.
In our next post, CRPs share the advice they’d give to someone considering a CRP career and what they think the future holds for CRPs.