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Ask the Exec: How to Become an Association Executive

Posted by Patti Overton on Jul 6, 2016 12:00:00 PM

notes.jpgAre you aspiring to be a future association executive? Or are you just starting out on your career path and wondering how other leaders ended up where they are today? Here are some tips from a couple of ISAE’s very own executive directors.

Manifest_Valayo_Lane_102015_A0099.jpgLane Velayo, CAE, Executive Director, Indiana Music Education Association, Past President of ISAE

What first attracted you to the association industry?
“I was able to step in and immediately have responsibility.”

How did you get where you are today?
“It’s so cliché but networking is #1.” Building long-term relationships and meeting new people is key where relationships are not purely transactional. For both his role as executive director at Indiana Hotel Lodging and now his role as executive director at Indiana Music Education Association, networking played a huge part in securing those positions.

Lane suggests exploring beyond your current job or major in college and to be willing to work in a lot of different areas. Essentially you need to be a jack of all trades. In doing so, he says “you may find something you enjoy or you’re really good at.” 

Lane also suggests professionals “get to know the industry they are working in.” In order to empathize with members you must have a good knowledge of the industry lingo. Ask, “What keeps them up at night?”

The great thing about associations is there are many pathways and it is about being more versatile than “just being a meeting planner or just being a graphic designer.” There is value in readily stepping into other roles.

Knight.jpgLindsey Knight, CAE, Executive Director, Raybourn Group International

What advice would you give Millennials or people just starting out in the industry?
Lindsey strongly encourages learning all facets of what the job entails to see how it comes together. She is a big proponent of being proactive and curious, and always asking questions.

She also points out that peer groups can be great because they allow you to see other people doing the same job in a different capacity and you can ask questions and gain new ideas. Lindsey says getting involved and taking on new challenges is also key.

Lindsey says at the end of the day to remember, “It’s not your association; it’s their association,” further underscoring the importance of carrying out the decisions of the board whether or not you agree.

She also emphasizes that one must be flexible and ready to figure out how to work with a new board and president, which often changes annually. Knight says, “That is on you as the association professional to go to the new president and board and learn how to best communicate with each other.”

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Topics: Career, Association Executives, Young Professionals

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