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Leadership and the Volunteer


Dr. Lee Buddress, C.P.M.
Dr. Lee Buddress, C.P.M., Assistant Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207, 503/725-4869.
Dr. Alan Raedels, C.P.M.
Dr. Alan Raedels, C.P.M., Professor Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207, 503/725-3728

81st Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1996 - Chicago, IL

Abstract. Directing an organization, be it a business or a volunteer organization, requires both leadership and managerial skills. This paper focuses on the development of those skills in context of NAPM and its Affiliates. Leadership and training opportunities are identified and explored. Leadership characteristics are detailed. Essential managerial skills are discussed and related to association management.

Introduction. In any organization, leadership and management skills are fundamental to success. In volunteer organizations, these may be even more critical, since active volunteer involvement is so tenuous. In addition, many of the offices of both NAPM and its Affiliates involve both skills. To better understand the distinction, leaders might be described as those who produce or guide desirable, effective change. Leaders set direction for organizations or groups, align members to the course and motivate and inspire participation and contribution. Managers plan to produce order, predictability and consistency. They budget, set targets and performance measures, and structure and define members' roles.

What is a Leader? While there are many versions of leadership characteristics, the following is a compilation of many of the important ones.

A leader is:

  • An individual of Integrity. This means being ethical and accountable both personally and professionally. Leader do what they say will be done, do what must be done without regard for consequences, and take responsibility for their actions.
  • Decisive giving full and careful consideration to all sides of a controversy, then making the hard decisions, at the right times.
  • a Listener who hears not only what others say, but how they say things. Equally important is a listener who also hears what others don't say.
  • a Learner who benefits from the knowledge and experience of others. A learner also looks for and evaluates new ideas, tools and technologies.
  • an Educator who is constantly sharing accumulated knowledge and experience, as well as an individual who mentors and teaches.
  • a Visionary who has a clear view of the future and is committed to that future. Visionaries are long term planners who have the ability to see beyond the immediate details to those evolving strategies and technologies which will shape the future of the organization.
  • an Innovator who is willing to consider and adopt new ideas and technologies.
  • a Steward who realizes that leaders are but caretakers of the resources under their command, both human and capital. It is the role of the leader to develop and make full use of those resources.
  • Energetic. Belief in goals and pursuits conveys energy and passion to one's actions which is seen and felt by those being led.
  • an Encourager whose role is to support others in their pursuits by removing roadblocks, giving positive support and helping to develop others' skills and capabilities.

Leadership Tasks. K. C. Powell, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sequent Computer Systems, Inc. once described a leader in the following terms. "It is the responsibility of a leader," he said, "to build confidence that someone's in control. This includes dressing and acting the part. A leader must also articulate the vision, be forward looking and inspiring (do what you say). Characteristics of a great leader include honesty (tell the bad news as well as the good when necessary), and trust in your people. A leader must be competent and organized. A leader must also be ruthless when necessary."

There are three components of leadership illustrated in the above quote. First, a leader is involved in setting a direction for the organization. This includes developing a vision and strategies to accomplish the vision. NAPM, as a volunteer organization, has established the strategic planning process as a vehicle for the organization's leadership to create a vision for the future. NAPM's vision is that "Members of the National Association of Purchasing Management are recognized as world class professionals. NAPM and its affiliates serve as centers of excellence in establishing and maintaining best-in-class professional standards of competency and conduct for its members, and matters pertaining to research, education, and certification."

Second, a leader is responsible for aligning people to support the organization's direction. To accomplish this, the leader must communicate the vision to all involved. The goal is to get everyone moving the same direction as in a wagon train as opposed to trying to herd sheep. Effective use of the strategic planning process is one tool the leader can use to align the organization. For example, the NAPM Strategic Plan is becoming the driving force allowing the organization's leadership to marshal people and resources to achieve the organization's vision for the future. Based on the organization's vision, it has developed three goals: to achieve world-class professionalism, to expand the association's value to the profession, and to develop member leadership and participation. The leadership of NAPM is responsible to develop, update and revise the Strategic Plan, while Affiliates leaders have a responsibility to develop complementary and supportive visions and strategies. These provide the constant focus and targets by which leaders guide organizations. They also enable managers to devise and administer appropriate performance measures which encourage activity toward the organization's goals.

Third, a leader is motivating and inspiring. The effective leader doesn't need to be the most charismatic individual. As was stated above, people want to know someone is in charge. The effective leader needs to be encouraging and supportive. If they have aligned people behind the vision, the leader then needs to provide the resources and environment which allows people to achieve their goals.

Managerial Tasks. Closely allied to the leadership tasks described above are managerial tasks which produce the detailed plans and controls for the organization. In managing a business or an association, short term targets and goals are established to provide day-to-day focus and enable the organization to progress toward the strategic objectives identified by leadership. These activities comprise the majority of actions of association managers and leaders. The manager is also charged with organizing and staffing the detailed plans as well as supervising their execution.

Given a strategic goal of NAPM is to achieve World-Class Professionalism, an objective is first established and managerial plans detail how the objective is to be reached. For example, pursuing that strategic goal, a local association may define a set of seminar programs it will sponsor. Seminar topics could be defined by a membership survey. Each program will require a budget and an operating plan. The budget includes an income goal and a break-even attendance minimum. Performance is measured in attendance figures and dollars. The operating plan includes tasks such as identifying and securing a speaker, locating and contracting for appropriate facilities and meals, and providing suitable on site facilitation. Each of these steps is examined for consistency with strategic objectives, checked for conformance to performance measures, and provides leadership and managerial opportunity and experience for those involved. The individual in charge of the plan must then recruit individuals to perform the steps in the plan and ensure that they are completed within the time and budget constraints.

Developing Your Leadership Skills. One of the major advantages to membership in a professional association such as NAPM is that the varied activities of the organization offer extensive opportunities to develop and expand one's leadership skills. Many NAPM members have concurrent interests in other related associations, such as the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC), the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS), the National Institute of Governmental Purchasers (NIGP), and the National Purchasing Institute (NPI). In all of these organizations, there is a constant need for volunteer leaders to undertake responsibility for tasks as diverse as a premeeting workshop and national leadership.

One might, for example, while serving on the Professional Development Committee at the local level, volunteer to be a seminar, speaker, or workshop coordinator. After working on these projects, a next step might be to chair the Pro D Committee at the local level. Continuing with professional development could then lead to a District Chair, membership on the National Pro D Committee and eventually to National Chair. Alternately, following leadership of the local Pro D Committee, one might become a member of the local association board of directors. Continuing at the local level, one might proceed through the association's offices as Secretary, Treasurer, Vice President, President and finally, Director for National Affairs. This last office involves participation in District leadership. Continuation on this path potentially leading to the position of District Director, the top district leadership position, and member of the national Board of Directors. Election to national office could follow. The key issue here is that there are several tracks available in any professional association. Each leads to progressively more responsible leadership positions and provides excellent opportunity to develop and expand leadership skills and experience. Many jobs do not offer leadership opportunities of sufficient scope or pace to be satisfactory. These association leadership positions enable purchasing professionals to acquire leadership skills more rapidly than may be possible in their work environment.

As noted above, leaders must be combinations of listeners, learners and educators. Not only will leaders acquire leadership skill and experience from others in the organization as they progress, it is their responsibility to, in turn, pass this knowledge on to others. One of the primary responsibilities of any leader is to locate and train a successor. Often people become stuck, at least for a time, when they are valuable in their positions and no one is available to replace them.

Developing Leadership Skills in Others. Begin the process of assisting others to develop leadership skills by providing educational opportunities sufficient to enable them to acquire the tools necessary to successfully lead. Often, local associations sponsor workshops or seminars in leadership, working in/with groups and successful communication. Toastmasters is a fine organization to help individuals become comfortable speaking before groups. NAPM sponsors annual district workshops at which new local association leaders learn their key tasks of office. These workshops typically include sessions for each of the four standing committees (Professional Development, Membership, Public Relations and Membership) plus sessions for officers. Each session is designed to provide skills sufficient to enable new leaders to comfortably undertake their offices. All new officers and committee chairs should attend these workshops.

Assign small leadership roles to learning leaders, initially. It's not that a person may not be capable of leading a larger function, but to one who has little leadership experience, large projects may be not only overwhelming, but sufficiently daunting to cause abandonment. Smaller tasks also allow one to learn from mistakes while minimizing the cost of them. Good, experienced leaders also give learning leaders permission/freedom to fail in pursuit of lofty goals. All of us fail, occasionally. If failure to achieve a goal carries a severe penalty, the setting of easily attainable goals is the result.

New leaders need guidance and mentoring from those of higher organizational position. Expectations, roles and boundaries need to be clearly explained. For example, the Public Relations Committee Chair might ask a potential leader to participate in a press conference first as an observer. The objectives and roles would be spelled out beforehand. The chair might then assist the new leader in a second conference and finally assign the third conference to the new leader alone.

Conclusions. As Benjamin Disraeli once said, "The secret to success is constancy to purpose." The secret to managerial and leadership success begins with the thoughtfully conceived strategic plan. Managerially then, that plan should be before each manager's eyes every day. Each time a leader or manager makes a decision, the question should be asked, "Does this decision further the organization's progress toward our strategic objectives?" If so, proceed. If not, rethink. Goals and performance measures should be designed to encourage actions, at all levels, which also further progress toward strategic objectives.


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