Professional Associations and the Balance of Power
There is strength in numbers. So, associations, and not-for-profit professional
associations (NFPPAs) in particular, are formed by groups of individuals seeking
to gain support for their particular practices by collective action. Of course
it is not always quite that blatant, and altruistic motives (read Goals and Objectives)
such as networking, professional development, service to the public and so on,
are carefully espoused.
It has been suggested that for an association to be truly professional it must
establish several functions including: a unique body of knowledge relating to
the practice of the association; standards of entry and progression based on
a recognized educational process; a code of conduct; a valued service to the
public as well as to the profession itself; and a sanctioning organization that
defines its membership categories, offers a professional designation and promotes
public awareness. It goes without saying that for the organization to be successful
there must be a real need for the service and a desire for members to belong.
Project management is an ideal candidate.
When the association is very small and still building its base, it can be managed
entirely by voluntary effort. As it grows, paid secretarial help is required
to handle routine documentation. Growing further, perhaps to several thousand,
the association must afford paid administrative staff to handle the professional
functions described above. This staff would be led by an Executive Director (ED)
and who, most likely, would also act as spokesperson, but in any case would be
responsible to a Board of Directors (BoD).
The signs of strain begin to show at this point because the BoD are likely
to impose more and more work on the staff, yet try to maintain hands-on control.
The ED's response will be to try to increase staff numbers to cope with the work
load, as well as to increase personal prestige. Now imagine the position when
the organization grows to many thousand, and real power is at play! More staff,
more qualified and at higher salaries can be hired with more grandiose titles.
But the underlying strain between BoD and the (now) Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
The task of an NFPPA CEO is a very difficult one, and internal politics are
their greatest source of frustration. They are responsible to Boards of elected
volunteers, which is like being married to a dozen or so individuals each with
their own motives, personal goals and desires. Then there are all the members
to cope with as well. So, the issues for the CEO become how to keep the Board
happy, how to keep them out of the day-to-day running of the organization and
how to keep your job.
Of course there are a number of strategies to meet these challenges, like lots
of committees keeping every one busy with the sense of lots of action, but it
still needs management style. Two styles of CEO predominate. There are those
who operate in the foreground with greater notoriety and responsibility, higher
compensation and respect, and the power to accomplish goals. Then there are those
who operate in the background, generally with longer tenure and security, but
with less respect and recognition and higher levels of frustration in doing what
they believe best.
But for the power operators, what if it were possible to disenfranchise the
membership, the Board, the Executive Committee and anyone else in the chain of
command? Now, it seems, it is perfectly possible with a new organizational approach
known as 'Policy Governance'. Applied with skill and persistence, this concept
can be used to sweep away an entire organizational heritage. Its purpose is to
insist that the membership and its short-term Board representatives focus on
all-new policy strategies, the implementation of which are all too far away in
the future that none will see the fruits of their labors. Meantime any strategies
that do survive can be readily translated in to operational tactics that serve
any short term need.
Of course, if the association is to survive, it must still be managed with
integrity, honesty and transparency, but no wonder that policy governance is
so popular with NFPPA CEOs.