Cultivating Top-Notch Volunteer Leaders

Associations know all too well the challenges of finding effective volunteer leaders on an ongoing basis. At AMC, our staff has the experience and know-how to help our clients identify and develop strong volunteer leaders, both now and in the future. A case in point is the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses (ARN), an AMC client for more than 30 years. A key strategic goal of ARN is to position its members as experts and leaders in integrating rehabilitation nursing concepts into all areas of healthcare, including clinical practice.

In concert with AMC staff, ARN's board of directors

  • clearly defined leadership qualities for both clinical practice and the association
  • continually identify, educate, and mentor potential ARN leaders.
Let's face it: It's easy for associations to say that they need strong leaders, but without defining what constitutes a strong leader, the meaning often remains elusive or vulnerable to change. To define leadership qualities, ARN charged a task force of past and current association leaders to develop a list of top leadership traits and associated skill sets. AMC staff provided the task force with a choice of models and helped guide it through the process of developing a set of leadership skills and criteria unique to ARN. These traits were then integrated into the board-candidate nominating and application process.

The list of leadership traits, which was approved by the ARN Board, centered on seven key leadership traits such as political astuteness, priority setting and results, strategic thinking, and ethics and integrity. It's now used as an assessment tool that, among other things, allows applicants to rate themselves on their own leadership traits and skills. According to candidates, the process helps them better understand what is expected of them as potential board members.

To prepare nurses for leadership roles, ARN has started providing education on leadership in both clinical nursing and in volunteer organizations in the form of a 2-day workshop at its annual conference. Day one focuses on leadership in clinical settings—including vision, accountability, conflict resolution and courage—and day two is on leadership within a nonprofit organization such as ARN.

Comments from attendees at the first workshop in 2009 were extremely positive, with several nurses describing the session as "inspiring" and saying it changed the way they view their careers and practices. Not surprisingly, the leadership workshop will be offered again in 2010.

AMC staff continues to work with ARN to refine the workshop and monitor the effectiveness of the leadership criteria used in the nominating process.
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