OzVPM HOT TOPIC – JULY 2004
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
This month’s hot topic has been inspired by Fraser Dyer – a colleague from the UK, who in his own monthly e-zine, recently examined how having a better understanding of our personality types can play a key role in the careers we choose and ultimately gain fulfilment from.
After giving this consideration, I began wondering exactly what the implications might be for volunteer program management.
For instance, over the years there has been much debate about the titles used within our profession.
* Many came to move away from the commonly accepted title of ‘volunteer coordinator’, arguing that our roles did so much more than simply ‘coordinate’.
* The commonly accepted term that replaced this was ‘volunteer manager’. This was soon replaced itself as ‘volunteer program manager’ came into vogue. This time the argument was often heard that we ‘ don’t manage people we manage programs’.
* Professional associations such as the AAVA and AVA have moved away from these terms altogether, preferring to use the phrase ‘administrator’ and its derivatives
* Today alternate and more generic titles such as ‘community involvement facilitator’ are becoming more and more common
I make reference to this because I believe it highlights the breadth of styles we use (and require) to lead volunteer groups.
For some groups, particularly in smaller less formal agencies, the term coordinator may be perfectly apt and acceptable, while other organisations such as large hospitals and national Associations may quite reasonably opt to use titles such as Manager or Director for the leader of their volunteer resources.
The same principle applies when selecting a suitable person to lead a volunteer program. In one agency, a ‘people person’, high on interpersonal skills but less skilled in administrative processes may be appropriate. In larger more established agencies, administration abilities may take more priority.
So in light of these complexities, I now ask the question of just what attributes the ‘perfect’ volunteer manager might have?
Indeed, is there any such thing as a ‘perfect’ leader of volunteers?
For me the short answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
I say yes, because regardless of the size, scope and nature of any volunteer program there are certain attributes I believe carry across any successful volunteer leadership roles you’ll find anywhere in the world. These include an ability to lead and motivate people, good communication skills and at least a rudimentary level of record keeping abilities.
I say ‘no’ because the huge variety of volunteer programs that exist do enable just about anyone with these basic skills to lead a team of volunteers of one type or another. In other words, there are no absolute ‘rights or wrongs’ when it comes to assessing the various styles of leading volunteer programs.
That’s not to say that the skills possessed by the coordinator of volunteers in a small rural environmental project are automatically transferable to the position of Director of Volunteers with a large national charity.
However, what it does suggest to me is that volunteer program management is a unique profession, with both a need and ability to employ a wide range of skills in order to meet an even wider range of program requirements.
Clearly there will be many who see this as being a key strength in our sector while others will invariably view this as one of volunteer management’s weaknesses.
So where does Fraser’s newsletter article fit in all of this?
It fits, because the point Fraser makes about our needing to understand our own personality and leadership styles is critical to understanding the way we lead our volunteer programs.
For instance, having a greater understanding of your own personality and leadership style can:
• Help you to acknowledge areas of strength and weakness in the way you lead volunteer groups
• Assist you in recruiting appropriate staff members (and volunteers) who can compliment your style and cover your deficiencies
• Aid in developing management strategies to help you deal with areas of your work in which you might not naturally be strong
• Identify areas of professional development you may need to concentrate on
• Teach you that you don’t need to be everything to everyone!
Ultimately, having a better understanding of your leadership traits can help you to be more in control of what you do – and ultimately that’s got to lead to healthier and happier volunteer management environments.
Now let me ask you all a few questions:
• Do you believe there is such a thing as a ‘perfect’ volunteer management style? If so what does it look like?
• What have you learnt about your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to the leadership of volunteer groups?
• What strategies have you employed to build on your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses?
• Share the results of you’re your personality testing with us!