Chapter leadership succession planning helps to build stronger chapters

One of the most challenging aspects of chapter management is succession planning. As with most organizations, the executive committee of a chapter comprises a president, vice-president (president-elect), treasurer, and secretary. Many of these officeholders go on to accept other leadership positions after their term in one role is completed. The four-officer succession plan provides the best training ground for assuming the presidency of a chapter. Committee or subcommittee chairs who distinguish themselves with excellent performance on a particular project are often looked upon as leadership material. The more committees and subcommittees that a chapter has, the larger the pool of potential officers.

The leadership ladder

Most chapters have a core group of councilors and often a group of committee chairs. Many councilors represent surgery training programs, state medical societies, or other groups and institutions. The College’s Women in Surgery Committee, Health Policy and Advocacy Group, and ACS National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (ACS NSQIP®) collaboratives, Young Fellows Association, Resident and Associate Society (RAS), Committee on Trauma, Commission on Cancer, and standing Committees—including Nominating, Finance, and Membership committees—serve as other reservoirs of future leaders.

Often Governors representing the chapters will serve on these committees in overlapping roles. Some chapters reward officers after their years of service by nominating them to serve as Governors. Governors often benefit the chapter by acting as conduits of information from the ACS leadership to the chapter. Their attendance at the spring Leadership & Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC, as well as an array of Governors’ meetings at the Clinical Congress, ensures that they are up-to-date on College programs and initiatives.

Terms and responsibilities

The term of office for Executive Committee members may be one or two years, each schema having its advantages and disadvantages. A one-year term requires more mentorship of younger council members so they can enter a leadership position earlier in their chapter involvement. A two-year commitment may be more of a challenge for some members because it may essentially mean eight years of involvement if the usual succession from secretary to treasurer to vice-president to president is followed. A two-year term does have the advantage that the first year becomes a “training year,” serving as a foundation for an active, successful second year. When the nominating chair or president approaches prospective officers to assess their willingness to accept the position, a frank conversation between the chair or president and the prospective officer is paramount. This discussion should inform the prospect of the time commitment involved in either a one- or two-year position and the expectations of moving up on the leadership ladder.

The duties of each officer will vary from chapter to chapter and often will overlap with key committee or subcommittee appointments. Examples of chapter officers’ duties can be found in the American College of Surgeons Chapter Guidebook on the ACS website. At the 2013 Leadership Summit, I offered a PowerPoint presentation of chapter officers’ duties, which is available on the ACS website.

Duties of each committee chair should also be clearly outlined in the chapter bylaws. Committee chairs destined for officer positions should ideally lead more than one committee over a period of several years so they gain exposure to the breadth of College and Chapter priorities. Within the framework of strategic planning, chapters interested in developing a particular focus (such as advocacy) should consider “promoting” a strong chair of the key committee charged with leading the related activity into the secretary’s spot, so that they may begin the ascent to the presidency.

A president with a strong background in a particular area will help the chapter strengthen its influence in that arena. Chapter leaders should pick a focus and foster the leadership growth of individuals who excel in that capacity.

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