7 Characteristics of Exceptional Association Leaders

Oct 30, 2023

As the leader of an association, your actions and decisions can have a significant impact on the success and growth of the organisation. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for effective leadership, there are certain characteristics that have been proven to be valuable in association leadership including:

Clear vision and goals

Exceptional association leaders are able to articulate a clear vision and set of goals for their organisation. They are able to inspire and motivate others to work towards these objectives, and are able to adapt their strategies as needed to stay on track. Take the time to sit down and really think about the long-term direction you want your association to go in. What are your core values and what impact do you want to have? Once you have a clear vision, communicate it to your team and use it to guide your decision making.

Strong communication skills

Effective communication is crucial for any leader, but it is especially important in the association world where you may be working with a diverse group of stakeholders. Exceptional association leaders are able to clearly and effectively communicate their ideas and expectations to their team, members, and other stakeholders. Practice active listening and make an effort to understand other people’s perspectives. Use clear and concise language in all of your communications, and be sure to pay attention to nonverbal cues as well.

Collaborative approach

Exceptional association leaders understand that they cannot do it all on their own, and are willing to work with others to achieve their goals. They are able to bring people together and foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration within their organisation. Encourage open communication and collaboration within your team, and be open to new ideas and perspectives. Look for opportunities to work with other associations and organisations to achieve common goals.

Strategic thinking

Exceptional association leaders are able to think ahead and plan for the future. They are able to analyse data and information to make informed decisions, and are able to anticipate and mitigate potential challenges. Stay up to date on industry trends and developments, and regularly review and assess your organisation’s strategies. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks, but also make sure to have contingency plans in place.


The world is constantly changing, and exceptional association leaders are able to adapt and pivot as needed to stay ahead of the curve. They are open to trying new things and are not afraid to take calculated risks. Stay open to new ideas and be willing to try new approaches. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or seek out new resources if you need them.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise and understand your own emotions and the emotions of others. Exceptional association leaders have high levels of emotional intelligence, which allows them to effectively manage their own emotions and the emotions of their team. Take the time to understand your own emotions and how they impact your behaviour. Practice empathy and try to see things from others’ perspectives.

Strong work ethic

Exceptional association leaders lead by example and are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They are willing to put in the hard work and long hours needed to achieve their goals. Action suggestion: Set a strong work ethic for yourself and your team, and be willing to go above and beyond when necessary.

Being an exceptional association leader is no easy feat, but with the right combination of vision, communication skills, collaboration, strategic thinking, adaptability, emotional intelligence, and a strong work ethic, you can lead your organisation to success. Don’t be afraid to seek out new resources or ask for help when you need it (the free Answers for Asssociations online community is great for this), and always remember to stay true to your values and vision. 

Want to learn more? I will be attending the Association Leaders Retreat in Darwin from 19-21 July. This is a chance to step out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in a unique and enriching experience alongside fellow association professionals. Over three unforgettable days, you will indulge in a showcase of local cuisine and breathtaking landscapes while participating in dynamic sessions designed to foster collaboration and connection with your peers, leading to impactful outcomes. No stuffy PowerPoints or formal presentations here – this is a chance to break away from routine and engage in a refreshing retreat.