Posted in CEO, Government Affairs

BACon BLOG - 3 Keys to Success for an Association CEO and Government Affairs

Government affairs is an important part of almost every association in America. And any association CEO will be judged by how successful the association is in meeting its government affairs goals.

What are the keys to success for an association CEO when it comes to government affairs?

(1) Know Where You’re From 

If you have risen to the position of CEO from the profession/industry the association represents, you have some challenges that you should consider.

Coming to the position of association CEO from the profession or industry has many advantages, including familiarity with the content and with the other leaders in the industry. But this content knowledge and personal connections does not translate into an understanding of politics and advocacy. In fact, a too-intimate connection to the profession or industry can actually play against an association CEO, who can lose perspective on what needs to be done in government affairs based on their own biases.

A different challenge faces CEOs who come to their position from another area of the association world, such as finance, membership or education. Content expertise in one area of the association does not automatically translate into government affairs expertise. This can be particularly challenging for an association CEO who feels the need to “prove themselves” in government affairs if their expertise is elsewhere in association management by playing a heavy hand in managing the government affairs of the association.

So know where you’re from… and avoid the pitfalls that come with where you’re coming from.

(2) Rely on Your Staff 

As CEO, a major key to your success in the government affairs area is to establish a positive working relationship with the government affairs staff. An association CEO should work closely with the government affairs staff on the issues of importance to the association and the members or trade that it represents. Trust the expertise of your government affairs staff. Look to them to help you increase your knowledge about government affairs. They will be flattered that you are relying on them, and can connect you with excellent resources.

As CEO, ensure that you receive appropriate communications from your staff about the organization’s government affairs efforts so that you stay current on the policy and advocacy issues that impact your association as well as the implementation of the association’s policy and advocacy plan.

(3) Put Government Affairs into the Bigger Vision 

As CEO, you should not try to become the content expert for your government affairs efforts. Your government affairs staff, and in some cases your member volunteers, will be able to provide the expertise and the knowledge on the details of a legislative or regulatory issue.

The CEO should have a different and bigger vision that puts the details of an issue in the proper context of the priorities of the association. This is a critical role for the CEO and a role that only the CEO can provide.

So, know where you’re from, rely on your staff, and keep your eye on the bigger vision. Focus on these three keys and you’ll be playing a positive role in the success of your association’s government affairs.

John Barnes is President of Barnes Association Consultants. Barnes Association Consultants helps association Boards and CEOs address the wide range of challenges and opportunities facing today’s association leaders. Barnes Association Consultants helps association leaders make their associations better.

John can be reached at or 703.321.6866. For more information about Barnes Association Consultants, go to