Are you considering volunteering to serve as the president of the board for your homeowner or condominium association? Before making that leap, we can offer you a picture of the range of tasks that the position entails. The good news is that the variety keeps the job interesting!
Serving as the president of your association board is both an honor and a privilege. 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.
Let’s take a look at some of the responsibilities of the association board president and the skills needed to help you make the most of this opportunity.
1. Community Leader.
Being a leader isn’t always easy, even for those we describe as “natural born.” Some board presidents who have achieved success in other leadership arenas are sometimes unprepared for the special challenges that come with leading a community association board. Sometimes, it’s necessary to set aside your views as a neighbor and friend to focus on what is best for the community, as well as what is required by the association’s governing documents. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. Real friends will likely understand your position if you explain that you have a duty to fulfill in steering your community into the future and that your actions aren’t personal.
Julie Magaldi is the general manager at the iconic Sovereign Condominium in Atlanta and one of FirstService Residential’s luxury lifestyle experts. She shared insights from her 15 years of community management experience.
“People who have natural leadership skills already receive recognition in their communities and are usually the people who are asked to “Please run. Please help us,” Magaldi said. “When you’re a high level executive, you have a skill set that doesn’t always translate without a hitch into running a community full of your friends and neighbors. An experienced management staff can help you tap into the skills you already have and manage the community.”
As president, you’ll be called upon to lead discussions based on a variety of issues facing your community. Since your association’s governance is driven by the Declaration, Bylaws, and Articles of Incorporation, you’ll be perceived as an expert on what is written in them.
“The president will not necessarily master becoming an expert on every word of the governing documents – ours are 900 pages! However, they will master the knowledge that the governing documents serve as a roadmap for association business and the expected behaviors of those in the community, and to rely on the management team and association legal counsel for decision-making guidance,” Magaldi said.
If you’ve ever attended a poorly run meeting, you know how dull, inefficient and uninspiring it can be. As president, one of your responsibilities is making sure that meetings are productive and efficient – all while giving everyone the opportunity to speak on the agenda topics at hand. It’s a delicate balance, but it can be done. It takes some patience and practice.
“I have seen, over the years, powerful presidents from the corporate world sometimes have trouble with the warmer and fuzzier role of a board president, like collaborating and facilitating,” Magaldi explained. “They’re used to the executive environment by day where high-level decisions can be made unilaterally – but on an association board, decisions have to be made for the members of the community at large and with a consensus. That isn’t always popular with the squeaky wheels who try to drive a lot of decisions.”
The president will have an important role in motivating fellow owners to serve on the board and various committees. Your energy, leadership and vision can be instrumental in uniting the community and garnering support for the objectives that your community needs to achieve.
Remember, this isn’t a dictatorship. As Magaldi noted above, decisions can’t be made unilaterally or with the interests of only a few people in mind. Unilaterally can certainly be an efficient way to make decisions, but in a community environment, it rarely works out well and will likely alienate other board members. That’s the fastest path to complete gridlock! Remember to ask other board members for their input and obtain proper approvals every step of the way.
As a great president, you’ll probably do more listening than speaking. Learning what’s important to your residents and board members will help you give thoughtful, judicious insight into final decisions when it comes to the issues you’re all facing together.
Great leaders are always learning – about your community, your fellow residents and (a whole lot) about yourself. You’ll even have homework: reviewing documents, preparing reports, studying governing documents.
“I’ve experienced dysfunctional board member teams that are led by board presidents who do not think there’s anything to learn in association operations,” Magaldi said. “This approach often leads to litigation if decisions are not in alignment with the path defined by the governing documents. Litigation is expensive, and it’s a cost borne by the membership at large. If the board president is a good student and seeks guidance from the association’s general counsel and their professional management team, litigation can be avoided.”
When you work with an experienced 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 is focused on, especially when it comes to the full scope of his or her responsibilities.
Great leadership has a huge impact on how a community thrives. Remember that, as president, you’ll actually fulfill many roles to help you and your neighbors achieve your shared vision of a great community.