State Leadership Conference

As APA's Chief Executive Officer, Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, serves a membership of 155,000 and oversees a of budget of $91 million. But Fowler believes that when it comes to association management, "the principles are the same, whether you have a staff of one or a staff of 500."

At the State Leadership Conference plenary session "Keeping associations healthy and resilient," APA's CEO--who will retire at year's end--offered state association executives insights for leading their organizations. Among them:

  • Be accessible to your members. Fowler publishes his e-mail address and home and work telephone numbers to encourage members to contact him. "No one has ever abused that," said Fowler. "I've heard from a lot of people, but it's people I need to hear from." He also believes executive directors should tell members "again and again that you understand their needs....When members feel that the executive officer understands them, they are likely to feel positively toward the organization."

  • Appreciate your governance. Executive directors of associations should never forget that association governance is the policy-generating body; it's for governance to determine the association's policy course, not the executive director. A good executive director will also value the skills, work and time governance volunteers bring--a commitment that boosts the association's health. "The more people participate in governance, the more they feel an affiliation and loyalty to it, and the more they want to keep the organization alive and healthy," he said.

  • Work closely with the president. It's the executive director's responsibility to develop a positive, cooperative relationship with the president, says Fowler. Most important is avoiding power struggles or role conflicts. The president represents the association and should never be overshadowed by the executive director.

  • Free the board from central office worries. The right CEO gets direction from the board and makes it happen, freeing the board from the day-to-day details of association management. "The board shouldn't be worried about whether the water cooler is working this week or not," said Fowler. "The board needs to be focused on getting prescription privileges passed in their state, or whatever it is that they want to do."

  • Understand who is in charge. Even if the executive director disagrees with a policy the board wants, he or she must support it. "If you don't like the project but the board likes the project, learn to like it!" said Fowler. Of course, the CEO may argue vociferously if he or she thinks a proposed policy won't work. But, if the board is not convinced, "it's the CEO's responsibility to implement it, not to stonewall a decision that is made."

  • Don't forget you serve the public. APA, like most scientific and professional associations, receives tax advantages because it serves and belongs to the public--a relationship that benefits the profession as well. "When public leaders and policy-makers understand and appreciate the role of psychology," he said, "the profession benefits from fair treatment through the laws and regulatory standards established for the profession, through more funds for training programs, and through greater use by citizens of the professional services of our members."

  • Build a healthy organization. As APA's CEO, Fowler has embraced the philosophy of Robert Rosen, PhD, author of "The Healthy Organization." It calls for an organization to be committed to employees' personal growth and development, to be fair and respectful of individual differences, to foster a spirit of partnership, and to promote physical and mental health. "Employees of a healthy organization believe in the mission of the organization, work effectively with each other, enjoy coming to work, feel that they are valued, and that they have a voice in decision-making," Fowler said. He also firmly believes in the importance of emotional intelligence as described by Daniel Goleman, PhD. "Being sensitive to and aware of one's own characteristics and the characteristics of others is far more important than IQ or technical skills," he said.

  • Be open to feedback. "A CEO should be evaluated on a regular basis," believes Fowler, who is re-viewed every year by APA's Council of Representatives, Board of Directors and members of APA's executive staff. "It's the best thing that can happen to a CEO because if you're failing, then you need to know about it," he said. On the other hand, if you are getting high ratings, and someone says you're not doing a good job, then "they're off base and you have the data to prove it."

  • Offer positive reinforcement. One of the strange things about psychologists is that they don't offer positive feedback as much as they might, Fowler said. And many people are starving for kind words, whether it's staff, governance or even the president. "M&Ms are cheap, but they sure taste good," Fowler quipped.

  • Don't take things too personally. Executive directors are certain to be targets of criticism. "But be aware that it is often directed toward your role, not you personally," he said. Don't internalize. When you've made a mistake, acknowledge it and make amends. "Mistakes will be forgiven, but not defensiveness or cover-ups," he said.

  • Relax. In the larger picture, what happens at work is "not the end of the world," Fowler believes. Always have some sources of satisfaction outside of your work, because the job won't always be satisfying, he said. "Get exercise, work off stress, stay healthy and have fun."