APWA chapter leaders "step up to the plate"

Highlights from the APWA leadership weekend

Patricia A. Kutt, CAE
APWA Director of Education

Holy Cow!

One hundred forty-three representatives of 57 chapters gathered on the last weekend in February in Kansas City for "Spring Training"—APWA's first-ever all-chapter leadership program. Chapter delegates, presidents, VPs and new chapter leaders came to learn how to "pitch" the benefits of APWA membership to prospective members, "hit a home run" every time when planning chapter meetings and events, and use their time in the dugout to trade their best ideas and programs with one another and to discuss issues with members in chapter positions identical to their own.

The event had several purposes: 1) to present up-to-the-minute information on all the programs and services provided by APWA National; 2) to allow chapters from a wide variety of areas to trade their best ideas; 3) to give members the opportunity to discuss issues with members in chapter positions identical to their own, and 4) to hone personal leadership skills for use at the chapter and in one's own employment setting. The weekend was a huge success.

Employing a baseball theme throughout, attendees "ran the bases" during a "special" tour of the APWA Headquarters offices. P.W. Paws was on hand as the team mascot as each APWA department introduced their starting line-ups and the services and activities they provide.

The nine regional directors, the APWA All-Star Team, also made presentations to the chapter leaders on specific subjects including committee effectiveness, community outreach tips, developing future leaders, awards programs, and strategic planning.

Dean Carlson, Secretary of Transportation for the State of Kansas, addressed the group Saturday afternoon on the issue of partnering and building relationships. Carlson is the immediate past president of AASHTO.

A special highlight of the weekend was the pre-dinner speaker, Buck O'Neil, legendary first baseman and manager of the Kansas City Monarchs Negro Leagues Baseball team and co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum located in Kansas City. The ninety-one-year-old, still-active baseball devotee wove wonderful stories about his life experiences leading up to being the first African-American coach in major league baseball.

Lessons Learned
A major portion of the program was facilitated by Mark Levin, CAE, President of BAI, Inc., who covered the following specific leadership areas:

  • Membership
  • Creating a "team" in the chapter
  • Establishing the public "image" for your chapter
  • Communicating the APWA message
  • Reinforcing committees
  • Identifying methods to attract "top level" leaders
Some highlights from his presentation follow:

Levin showed the leaders how to personalize their approach to recruiting members and selecting committee members. Focusing on individual strengths, he pointed out how people will gladly accept tasks that are in their comfort range or their interest field. Through a series of group exercises, the attendees found that sitting at their very own tables was a surprising array of skills that would be valued on any number of chapter committees. There were six people in the room who had saved a life, several who played a musical instrument, seven who were registered airplane pilots, and well over eighty percent of the room who were married for more than 25 years. We even found two who had "seen" a UFO in their youth.

Levin talked about the history of associations, why people belong, and how reasons for belonging have changed in today's harried society. People still want interaction and still want information, but people value time more than they do money. That being said, it is important for APWA and its chapters to recognize that services have to be provided when the need occurs, and long-planning cycles are no longer allowable. The definition of "responsiveness" has changed dramatically for our members.

A discussion of image and impact brought up the notion of "branding" which is popular in today's constant advertising environment. To brand APWA first at the local level, we need quality and consistency of programs, loyalty to our members, slogans or images to which they can relate, and a spokesperson who keeps the message in front of elected officials, the community and the membership itself.

He closed with saying that leadership is a competitive advantage. Many stories from the audience indicated what a leadership role in APWA's chapters has meant to them—often furthering both personal and professional career goals.

The bottom line was that while APWA may be a 136-year-old organization, it will remain vibrant and viable. But its chapter and national leaders must challenge past concepts of who the members are, the profile of the potential member, and what they both will expect from APWA as the "voice" of the profession in informational and educational services.

To reach Patricia Kutt, call (816) 472-6100 or send e-mail to pkutt@apwa.net.