Do you want to serve as the president of your community association board? It’s an honor and an important role. Before you make a commitment to being president, you need to understand the broad scope of the job and the tasks that it encompasses. A well-informed president who embraces the world of skills and responsibilities that come with that role is critical to the success of your board and your community. A president who has a lack of interest or enthusiasm can lead a board down the wrong path, to stalemates, ineffectiveness and gridlock, causing untold damage to your community.
Read on to learn more about the skills that become essential to every community association board president.
1. Separate leadership from friendship
“This is one of the toughest roles for most board presidents,” explained Keena Wood, who has been the community association manager at Bacopa Bay in St. Petersburg for almost two years. “But generally, good leaders are able to separate the personal from the business.”
When, as a president, you are in a position that requires you to set aside your role as a friend or neighbor, it’s a good idea to rely on the community’s vision, mission and governing documents to explain that position. “Every action taken by the board needs to fit that vision,” Wood said. “Take a step back and ask ‘Is this leading toward our vision and following our mission? Is this best for the community as a whole?’ These are good questions to ask during budget season. Sometimes, boards have to put personal feelings aside and raise assessment fees for the good of the community.” Good board presidents can explain that clearly, in the context of the community’s vision, and get buy-in from everyone in the community.
2. Facilitate productive meetings
If you’ve ever been in a bad meeting, you know how dull, inefficient and uninspiring it can be. As president, you’ll be tasked with making sure your meetings are productive and efficient – all while giving everyone the opportunity to speak their minds, too. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s an art you can master.
“I worked with one board president who was phenomenal! At the beginning of each meeting, she gave a little speech about how the meeting was about conducting the business of the board and that people would be allowed to speak at a designated time,” Wood said. “That framework and context allowed people to understand what their roles were and how they fit into the meeting process. I’ve seen also board presidents lose control of meetings, letting people interrupt and derail the agenda. If I see a trend toward that is developing, I follow her model and create a little speech for the president to use at the start of each meeting. When there are contentious issues, people pack the meetings and everyone wants to be heard, so we use sign-up sheets and other organizational tools to manage the meeting.”
Thinking ahead is important – does your agenda include a hot topic? If so, be prepared to welcome greater-than-usual attendance and responses. Be flexible and adapt as needed to maintain order.
3. Recruit and encourage volunteers
As president, part of your role is to make residents want to volunteer on the board and its committees. Your energy, leadership and vision can be instrumental in galvanizing support for the objectives that your community needs to achieve.
“Where I am, we have several committees, and the board members do a fabulous job identifying people in the community to take on ad hoc roles. They bring them into a committee and nurture them up from there, with an eye toward board service,” Wood explained. “I see the president as having a bit of a cheerleader role when it comes to volunteer recruitment. They can be effective team builders and share their enthusiasm with volunteers. It is about getting to know people and what their interests are and asking them to get involved.”
4. Liaise with professional management
When you work with a professional property management company, you’ll be the essential link between that company and your association. This means you’ll need an in-depth understanding of what your property manager and staff are focused on. Take time to learn the full scope of what your management company can do for your community and what resources they can provide to help your board work most effectively.
5. Collaborate with others on the board
A community association board isn’t a dictatorship. Sometimes it can be difficult for the charismatic, accomplished people who tend to lead community boards to shift gears from their decisive professional roles to the collaborative environment of the community association board. Unilateral action may be the more efficient way to achieve a goal, but it rarely works out well within a community organization. Seek input and build consensus whenever possible.
6. Listen to your residents
Many leaders are great speakers, but it’s even more critical to be a great listener. Active listening makes people feel valued, like they are being truly heard, not just being indulged. Residents who feel valued by their leadership are more likely to become engaged and provide the kind of thoughtful feedback you need to build a great community. Listening closely will help you identify what is important to your residents and fellow board members so that you can make decisions in the best interest of the community.
7. Learn all you can
No president, whether of a company, a country or a community, comes into the job knowing everything about how to do the job. Good leaders have the humility to recognize that and take steps to absorb all the information they can. In your role as board president, you’ll learn something new every day!
“A good student knows when to ask questions,” Wood said. “And there are no dumb questions. We all want to have the answers for everything and there’s no way we can. That’s okay, because we have a plethora of experts we can employ who do have the answers.”
8. Become an expert – and know when to rely on others
As president, you’ll be called upon to lead discussions based on a variety of issues facing your community. Since your association is governed by specific documents, you’ll be perceived to be an expert on them. You need to know the parameters within which your association can work and be effective. It’s also important to know when to rely on other experts, including your association attorney.
“Let the experts do their jobs,” Wood said. “In Florida, we must rely on an attorney to interpret the governing documents, for example. We have engineers to oversee projects. No board president can be an attorney and an engineer and have the answers to every question. Rely on your experts. It’s okay to say that you need to consult one.”
Leadership sets the tone for your community and helps it thrive. As board president, you’ll serve in many roles that help you and your neighbors achieve your shared vision of a great community.