When I was elected president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association, I had a singular focus on negotiating our association’s next MOU. While I was aware that there were many other responsibilities of an association president, I had not given them much thought. During my first month as president, many of these other responsibilities reared their heads. I was immediately contacted by two mayoral candidates who wanted our association’s endorsement, I was called out to provide representation to officers on a critical incident, I had my first closed-door meeting with the chief of police, I responded to media requests for interviews, I began meeting with city council members who had been neglected by my association in the past and I held my first board meeting, in which a divided group argued over a very contentious issue. I was overwhelmed and, to be honest, I really didn’t know what I was doing.
I quickly realized that I could not do the job alone, but I was under the misguided belief that I should be able to run my organization completely by myself, without any training or assistance. On my first callout I didn’t even notify the other members of my association’s leadership team, because I didn’t think it would be right for me to bother them at night. One afternoon, a few weeks into my term, I became frustrated because I was having difficulty setting up an appointment to meet with my city council members. One of the staff members saw my frustration and said, “Why are you trying to do that? That’s my job.” I felt both stupid and relieved — stupid for not having asked and relieved to know that there were people just waiting to assist me in my duties and responsibilities.
I’m not sure if other association leaders have had similar experiences, but the truth is that most of us who volunteer to serve our membership begin with little knowledge on how to do the job well. While I struggled through my first few months, my true failure was being too proud to ask for help. After those first few weeks, I quickly rectified that error. I began to reach out for both assistance and knowledge. I learned that there are many experienced leaders out there who have been through similar experiences. These leaders also had to struggle at first, and they achieved their successes because others were there to help them in their times of need. Most of these leaders stand ready to help us when we need them.
I also discovered that I need training to learn how to better serve my membership. An association president needs to understand negotiations, public relations, media relations, politics, discipline process, leadership, mentoring, budgeting and many other diverse topics. Association leaders need to seek out training for themselves and for their board members. I searched for and began attending training that would help me be more successful in serving my membership. I passed on the knowledge I gained to my board and encouraged them to attend training, too.
My keys to understanding how to be successful in my responsibilities were conversations with my fellow association leaders and attending training. PORAC was instrumental in helping me in these two areas. I began attending my local chapter and other PORAC meetings, where I would see leaders of other associations in my region. I would take the opportunity to discuss issues affecting my association and gained great insight from my fellow leaders. I also began to attend PORAC training classes. At these classes, I not only received great instruction, but I was again able to meet with other association leaders to share and discuss issues that affected our members.
Even now, with over three years of experience in running my association, I still feel that there is much for me to learn. I still use the connections I have made at PORAC to discuss important issues with my fellow association leaders, and I continue to search out new training courses for myself and my association board. I would encourage those of you in leadership roles in your association to attend PORAC meetings and training. Participate and learn. Make new relationships with other leaders in your area and you will learn to be a better servant to your membership.