In previous articles, I have written about the CSAE CEO Symposium led by Glenn Tecker. I find some of the tools provided at this workshop to be so valuable I keep the workbook on my desk. One of my most referenced tools is the role continuum for the chief staff executive (executive director or CEO). 

With permission from Glenn, I am sharing an interesting slide with you as part of this article.  Whenever Glenn presents the CEO Symposium there is always a chuckle in the room as one end of the continuum has indentured servitude, and the other end has a religious-like deity. I am not sure any association executive I know wants to be either of these things. What I do know is it is imperative that both the Board of Directors and the chief staff executive are on the same page as to the role of the executive director or CEO. 

Without role clarity, the Board and staff end up stepping on each other’s toes resulting in possible friction between staff and volunteer leaders. The scope of work for an association’s chief staff officer can range from clerk to visionary.  No wrong answer in a general sense, but there is a right answer for each organization.  

I find the exercise of each Board member reflecting on where they believe the chief staff executive is today and where they would like them to be as an individual exercise is a great place to start at the first meeting of a new Board. Board members with the chief staff executive included can then review the range on the continuum. In my experience, the range on the continuum selected by the Board of Directors is pretty narrow. And discussion with the chief staff executive is usually two or three of the “roles” on the continuum. 


An additional reason for using this tool is that some association executives may not be qualified to be the visionary or may not take a job as the clerk. Knowing what the Board of Directors needs in their chief staff executive when hiring will help to ensure the right candidate is chosen.  

Don’t assume a small organization may only require a clerk or that it’s only the largest of associations that would have their chief staff executive be a visionary. It may not be what is needed for that organization or what that organization needs at that particular moment in time. It’s also important that chief staff executives recognize where their strengths are. Are they a technical expert or a planner or a visionary? Most successful executives can’t cover more than two or three of these without the support of other staff. Self-reflection of the chief staff executive is key in making this successful. 

The other role continuum to review (below) as an exercise is to undertake the Board role continuum. Just like with the chief staff executive, the Board and staff must be on the same page regarding the role of the Board.  


The Board and staff can undertake the same exercise as the chief staff executive continuum. There is a myth that all Boards should act at the “strategy and policy” end of the continuum; however, that may be a goal, but it’s not imperative for every association. There are various reasons why some Boards have to be more operationally focused and others can be focused on strategy and policy. Like with the continuum for the chief staff executive, if everyone involved isn’t on the same page, it can lead to frustration and friction. When an association is on this continuum is often a reflection of the organization’s budget and the resource available, both volunteers and staff. This is another good exercise to do before hiring a new chief staff executive, as they are likely to ask, “what is the role of the Board?”. 

These two exercises from Tecker support the Board and staff of associations to ensure that they are operating from the same playbook. Role clarity eliminates frustration in duplication of work and leads to efficient and productive organizations. 


Check out more articles that will help you understand more about association roles and responsibilities: