Being a volunteer leader in an association can be challenging. You can’t just order your fellow committee or board members around. Even a board chair has limited formal authority and cannot just dictate what the board can and cannot do.
However, a lack of formal authority is not a barrier to leadership. In fact, the most powerful leadership isn’t derived from formal authority.
Instead, true leadership comes from influence.
Here are a few ways volunteer leaders can increase their influence within an association, and help their association—and its members—achieve great things.
1. Create trust.
Trust is the fundamental building block of influence. If fellow members don’t trust you, the chance that you will be able to exert any influence are slim-to-none.
So, how do you build trust?
One way you build trust is by what you don’t do. Associations are often tight-knit communities. By their nature, members are often competitors in one form or another. It can be easy, and tempting, to speak ill of another member. But even if what you say about another member is correct, you diminish your own stature as a volunteer leader by participating in gossip or other negative behavior.
Taking the high road and demonstrating personal integrity is the fastest way to gain trust in any role, including the role of volunteer leader within an association.
2. Build personal relationships.
Here’s a fact: You have more influence over people when they know you genuinely care about their well-being.
Take the time to get to know your fellow committee and/or board members a little better. Ask how they’re doing, check in on them if you hear they’re ill or facing a challenge, and congratulate them when you hear about their successes.
People respond powerfully to a leadership style that is based on genuine caring and relationship building.
3. Do what you say you’re going to do.
There are two types of people in the world:
Those who say they’re going to do something. And those who actually do it.
Associations are no different. Volunteer leaders who follow through and do what they say are going to do can be incredibly influential. Nothing is more powerful within an association than a reputation as someone who gets things done—especially when getting things done means using your own time to advance a cause or program that benefits your peers as much as it benefits you.
Ideas are easy to come by, especially in an association board or committee meeting.
Execution, on the other hand, is far rarer. If you’re a volunteer leader who executes, you will become incredibly influential.
4. Lead with your association hat on.
At Sentergroup, we pride ourselves on running a well-managed association. And if association management is being done right, the association’s programs and services will have a direct impact on your personal bottom line. In other words, there is an inherent level of self-interest involved in an association. You joined because it would make you better at your profession, or make your company more competitive.
That said, one of the essentials of volunteer leadership within an association is setting self-interest aside. As a volunteer leader, you need to lead with your association “hat” on, rather than your personal or professional hat. You need to make decisions based on the greater good of the association and your profession, rather than how they affect you personally.
Often your self-interest and the interests of the association coincide, but sometimes they don’t.
When that happens, when a volunteer leader makes a decision for the greater good that comes at a personal cost, he or she cements a reputation as a true, influential leader. Being a volunteer leader can be hard, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Volunteers who lead with influence can make a lasting impact on their association and their industry or profession.
As an association management company, Sentergroup and our team of association management professionals pride ourselves on giving volunteers the support they need to take their association to the next level—and getting to that next level requires leaders who create trust, build relationships, do what they say they are going to do, and lead with their association hat on.