December 18, 2017
    Hard skills get you in the door, mastering soft skills as a CEO ensures success

    Best practices to keep you a Number 1

    By Bennett Napier, M.S., CAE | 07/21/2016

    Partners in Association Management, of which the author Bennett Napier, CAE, is CEO, was named the 2016 Association of the Year by the Florida Society of Association Executives at the recent FSAE annual meeting. Present at the ceremony were staff members, from left, Deborah Caldwell, Lindsey Rowan, John Ricco, CAE,  Jill Jackson, CMP,  Napier, Rachel Luoma, CAE (who was named the FSAE 2016 Executive of the Year), Danielle Jessup, CMP, and Malarie Barineau. (photo by Mike Copeland,

    At some point in your career you are more than likely to either be a CEO or want to be a CEO. Today’s numbers reflect that 34 percent of CEOs remain in their position for 11 years or more. Here are some best practices to help you reach that milestone.

    Know your roles

    Be prepared. Association CEOs wear many hats. This expansive role takes the form of counselor, babysitter, human resources manager, strategic manipulator, visionary, public face, leader, facilitator, mentor and more. How can you be truly effective in each of these roles? Some suggestions are to earn and maintain the Certified Association Executive designation, know your craft in both association management and the industries you work with, listen, and keep your emotions in check. Also, take a vacation, treat people with respect, don’t take things personally and most notably look outside your world to learn best practices. Acquire different skills from other industries in addition to your association management professional development.

    A fast track to the CEO exit door is to be self-centered, play favorites, pad personal expenses, be aggressive, lose your passion, become stale in your thinking or use the role to create your personal empire.

    Know your responsibilities

    The responsibilities of the CEO are changing. Are you focused on the big picture or the details? Ideally it should be a little of both. As a CEO the tendency is to concentrate on the bigger picture, however, ensure you have another trusted team member focused on the details. While you do not need to be an expert in every facet, you should know something about every element of operations. If not, your value and credibility will be questioned internally and externally.

    Know your people

    Communication remains one of the biggest pieces to completing the CEO puzzle. If you aren’t calling your board and they aren’t calling you, bad things are going to happen. Pre-schedule a set time, send an agenda and make it a habit. You set the tone with communication frequency and expectations and more is always better than less.

    Start communicating early with leaders who are moving up in the ranks so they are ahead of the game. You can’t create an effective working relationship three months before they take the helm. It’s also helpful to provide your president with a “cheat sheet” agenda for in-person board meetings to establish a directional blueprint for effective communication.

    Don’t ignore your staff either; the same communication expectations apply. Proactively meet with staff, provide regular feedback, demonstrate transparency and set a clear vision within your organization as well as your boards.

    Napier is CEO of Partners in Association Management, which was named the Florida Society of Association Executives 2016 Association of the Year. He currently serves on the ASAE AMC Key and is a board member of AMC Institute. This article is based on his presentation at the recent FSAE 2016 annual meeting. He can be reached at

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