Thomas Popcheff, CAE is the chief administrative officer for Sigma Theta Tau International, Inc. He shares the challenges he faces, as well as his best advice for association professionals.
Briefly explain your current role.
I serve as the chief administrative officer for Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, Inc. with the primary responsibilities for administrative services, human resources, product fulfillment, inventory management and control, central purchasing, contract administration and risk management. Our organization was founded in 1922 by six nursing students from the Indiana University School of Nursing and we have inducted over 500,000 members over the past 90 plus years. We have approximately 500 chapters located in 29 different countries throughout the world.
What position best prepared your for your leadership role?
Earlier in my career, I served as the deputy commissioner of the Department of Administration for the State of Indiana. As a leader of a major service area in state government, I was selected to participate in the Governor Robert D. Orr Executive Leadership Institute. That experience was invaluable to help me understand the importance of identifying the unique attributes and skills of those who reported to me, and to leverage those attributes to help our area provide exemplary service and to achieve the goals established for our various business units. From a personal standpoint, the Institute emphasized to me the importance of listening to the needs of our staff, clients and other stakeholders, and to respond to those needs in a timely and professional manner. By living out those actions, leadership becomes natural, and those actions set the example for others to follow.
What are your biggest challenges?
As association leaders we are faced with the challenges of assuring we understand the various risks facing our organizations and attempting to reduce those risks by establishing effective policies and procedures, and securing the appropriate levels of insurance. Contractual issues; the protection of our intellectual property and brand; practicing effective governance and being transparent in all areas of our operations are all challenges we must address in today’s business environment.
What advice or lesson learned would you share with association professionals?
My career in the association industry followed years of experience in government and the private sector. I felt very well qualified to take on the challenges of leading an association staff, but soon realized the association industry is somewhat unique compared to the other sectors of employment. I immediately found an experienced association professional who served as a mentor and helped guide me through the initial years of my association career. I also became engaged with the Indiana Society of Association Executives (ISAE), as well as the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), and took advantage of the professional development opportunities each organization offered. Having a mentor and continuing to develop as an association professional is the best advice I could offer.