Navigating the association industry can be challenging, especially for board members, executive directors, and employees who are just beginning this chapter of their career journey. Last month, former Smithbucklin employee Michelle Mills Clement, FASAE, CAE, RCE, CEO of Chicago Association of Realtors (CAR), visited the Smithbucklin Chicago office to share insightful tips with industry professionals about how to unlock and evolve their professional potential in the association industry.
Exploring the possibilities
As association leaders, Michelle believes investing in the development of your organization and the people who comprise it is crucial to helping it grow. As a Smithbucklin alumnus, an ASAE fellow (FASAE), a Certified Association Executive (CAE), and Realtor Certified Executive (RCE), she spent many years investing in her own professional development and working her way up the association ladder.
“When I started my career at Smithbucklin, I met with Henry Givray, the President & CEO at the time,” said Michelle. “I wanted to understand the company as a whole, and I wanted to understand how Givray got to where he was as an association leader.”
It was after this impactful conversation that Michelle realized she needed to branch out and explore her professional potential. She was recruited by the CEO of Association Forum and accepted a position, and she went back to school to receive her master's degree in non-profit management. Michelle eventually moved to Seattle to serve as an executive director of a standalone association, where she quadrupled the size of its budget. She also went on to become the first black CEO of CAR, where she proudly leads the organization for the past five years.
Photo: Michelle Mills Clement with Smithbucklin President & CEO Matt Sanderson
Ways to unlock your professional potential
Based on Michelle’s experience, she recommends the following tips to help unlock professional potential in the association industry:
- Prioritize coming into the office for face-to-face interaction with colleagues.
- Set boundaries early, and actively communicate around blocking time on calendars.
- Focus on networking. Research who you want to know in your industry and have some strategy behind connecting with them.
- Join committees within your organization to fully immerse yourself in the culture and better understand your association, trade, or industry.
- Lean into every opportunity that comes your way – don’t be afraid to take chances and explore your potential in the association world.
- Make a significant effort to create opportunities for young professionals to grow in your industry. As association leaders, it is your responsibility to aid in the professional development of your staff and colleagues.
- Invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and training for your organization to foster an inclusive culture.
- Be conscious of engaging in restorative habits outside of work – particularly, getting enough sleep and being well rested.
During her visit to Smithbucklin, Michelle emphasized the importance for association leaders to explore professional potential and help cultivate environments for all to grow in their professional development in the industry.
"We are the ones making sure that associations grow," said Michelle. "If we don't make associations grow, they don't exist."
Gina Brennan is in Corporate Marketing at Smithbucklin.