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Skills Learned in Professional Association Not Taught on the Job

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Being President of the California member association of WEF (California Water Environment Association) provided supervisory and management skills not provided by the agency in the field positions. These skills are needed by those promoted to positions above the field level such as supervisor, chief plant operator, superintendant and manager. In the field, one learns the details of the facility. In order to provide direction to field staff, people need to learn about big picture items, oversight, governance, and program/project leadership which isn't taught while cleaning weirs, collecting samples, isolating equipment for maintenance or performing daily rounds at the treatment plant.

Many of the supervisory or management classes taught for adults provide educational information about what to do in various circumstances and some agencies provide instruction on supervision/management functions. However, one does not always have an opportunity to practice using new skills except on-the-job or during a situation which may not allow for mistakes. Putting new skills to use in a volunteer leadership circumstance can develop confidence and get feedback from your peers, reinforcing good behavior and catching problems before they can become habits.

For instance, Supervisory functions are described as Leading, Communicating, Planning, Organizing and Controlling. One example of learning to plan in a professional association would be in setting up a training class for people at other agencies. One selects a date and location to get the most attendance as possible and puts information together to create a flyer to get attendees to begin the process of having their agency provide registration payment. Not only do you identify and secure a speaker or a group of speakers, but you also must determine if food and/or drinks are provided. Sometimes it helps to have vendors who have equipment or materials related to the topic. One must develop a budget, involve other volunteers (set up training room, put up signs to direct traffic, check-in attendees, etc.) and notify the appropriate staff or board members so the activity won't conflict with other events. One must especially anticipate issues such as bad weather and other problems when volunteers do not meet deadlines.

Some may not think that a supervisor would have trouble planning work activities, but one of the most frustrating things I have heard upper management say is how staff didn't work out a project start-up to keep it from interfering with other activities or plan how much a project would cost (missing resource allocation or staff time needed.) Some supervisors act like people should automatically know to attend a training class, so they forget to set aside the time, date and location after the information (flyer) is provided. Supervisors also try to do things or set up meetings when people have breaks or lunch or are scheduled off. It may seem simple to plan but often the simple items are forgotten or leaders don't know from where the information comes.

Communication skills can be learned on the job (known as the school of “Hard Knocks”) and many people get promoted into a position which requires the ability to quickly read an audience. Unless you have an opportunity to practice identifying the needs of the people you speak to, you can unintentionally be put into a situation where one mistake can increase the agency's liability. This type of skill can be developed in an environment of professional courtesy which is often in the leadership roles of WEF and its member associations. Then when one is promoted, he/she has developed the basics of understanding the audience and can quickly respond to communication tasks with less trepidation and more agility (which makes the agency look professional too!)

Besides presentations, leaders can facilitate a meeting where it is necessary to identify the consensus of the attendees, with or without a vote. Here you can voice your opinion, but also learn to express the viewpoints of others in a concise way. As colleagues, they will correct you and provide feedback on the way you share the contents. In fact, you may become more adept at reading the group depending upon the frequency of the meetings. You will meet a wide variety of people who are not like those in your immediate circle and develop a better understanding of the diversity you currently work with. You learn behaviors to obtain rapport with new co-workers and maintain better working relationships with long-term employees. The boss has less stress by your adaptability where there isn't time to spend preparing you beforehand.

There are many other skills one can practice in a volunteer leadership position; however, the point I am trying to make with this poster is to encourage employees to seek opportunities to develop those supervisory and managerial skills and to help agency managers identify intangible benefits provided when their staff participate as leaders in WEF and its member associations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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