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Chamber Executive Article Archive

Are Boards Looking for a Change Agent?

by Ali Crain, CCE

About three quarters – 77 percent – of chamber executives believe it’s important for the leader of a chamber of commerce to be a “change agent.” But less than half – just 42 percent – of board members think that being a “change agent” is an important characteristic for a chamber executive to possess.

These numbers come from results of a survey I conducted as I wrapped up my master’s degree program at Northern Kentucky University in 2015. The study’s goal is to identify how chamber executives and chamber board members perceive the executive position. Survey outcomes could then be used to build dialogue between execs and their board members.

With a total of 234 responses – 138 board members and 96 chamber execs – coming from 17 states, the survey represents a broad, wide, and diverse audience. Survey respondents were asked to gauge whether or not it’s necessary for a chamber executive to possess specific characteristics and skills in order to effectively do his/her job.

Some survey responses are identical – 97 percent of both execs and board members believe it’s important for the executive to be approachable, for example – while others show a clear disparity in how the executive’s role is perceived.

Members of our boards believe it’s more important to have a good manager for the organization – someone with the necessary skills to manage day-to-day operations – while chamber executives believe it’s as important to be a strong leader as it is to be a good manager.

Board members and chamber execs alike know it’s important for the paid chamber exec to also be credible, dependable, ethical, resourceful, and knowledgeable (a few of the survey’s highest-ranking characteristics/behavioral traits). When it comes to the importance of being influential and a trend-watcher, however, a difference of more than 20 percent exists between boards and execs. Just 62 percent of board members think it’s important for the exec to be influential compared to 84 percent of execs. Just as eye-opening, only 56 percent of boards think it’s important for the chamber executive to be a trend watcher compared to 77 percent of execs.

Inarguably, the disparity shows our boards lack understanding in the characteristics/skills actually needed by the people they hire, and trust, to do the job. It appears board members don’t always know which characteristics and skills are needed to effectively manage daily demands inside the chamber of commerce office.

Like characteristics, boards and execs ranked some skills almost identically. About 95 percent of boards and chamber executives believe it’s important that the exec has the ability to empower and engage, for example. Other skills have a wide disparity in ranking. When it comes to newsletter design, 25 percent of board respondents think it’s necessary for the exec to have that skill, compared to 45 percent of chamber executives.

Although the skills a chamber executive needs – meeting management, finance basics, understanding of the advocacy process – will vary greatly depending on the size of the chamber, it’s important that our board members know what it takes for executives to get the job done, no matter the size of the chamber.

Perhaps one of the more interesting findings from the survey is that both execs and boards rank database management relatively low on the list of importance. Thankfully continued professional development didn’t meet the same fate. Nearly everyone surveyed views this as important or very important for the success of the executive and the chamber.

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