It’s often said that volunteers are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations.
It’s no different for ASSP. Our members’ willingness to volunteer their time, talents and expertise enables us to create a strong professional community, deliver top-quality education, develop standards and provide a leading voice for the occupational safety and health profession and those who practice it.
A key part of this equation is providing members with a range of opportunities to get involved and contribute. In a decision that will allow a larger pool of members to pursue leadership opportunities and enable ASSP to strengthen its leadership pipeline, our House of Delegates voted to remove the professional membership requirement to hold the elected positions of regional vice president, area director, and administrator and assistant administrator for our practice specialties and common interest groups.
“For many years, leaders holding these positions have expressed frustration about the professional member requirement to run for these offices,” says ASSP At-Large Director Pam Walaski, CSP.
That frustration stemmed in part from the qualifications required for certain elected positions.
"We ask our elected officers to identify promising leaders, provide them opportunities to develop their skills and create a path forward for their growth as ASSP leaders," Walaski explains. However, in some cases members with interest may not have the years of experience or credentials required to become a professional member.
“It has not been unusual for those who were interested and willing to continue to grow as leaders to be stymied by the professional membership requirement,” Walaski explains. “While they show excellent promise and a willingness to continue to serve our Society, they haven’t been able to go any further. The requirement had become a barrier for some of our most promising leaders and their sponsors.”
We asked her to provide additional background and context for understanding what this change means to ASSP and its members. Here’s what she said.
ASSP: How did the Society achieve stakeholder consensus on this issue?
Pam: The board discussed this issue in early 2019. This led to the development of general language around removing the requirement that would become the starting point for engaging stakeholders in the discussion. Then we talked to the Congress of Councils, which is made up of the five council vice presidents and chaired by Deb Roy, who was then our senior vice president.
By late spring, the Congress of Councils had agreed on several options for changing the bylaws, and those options were presented and discussed at council leadership meetings held during Safety 2019 in San Antonio, TX. We also had several rounds of discussions with common interest group and practice specialty leaders from the Council on Practices and Standards and with leaders of the Council on Region Affairs, regional vice presidents and area directors.
These two groups agreed on the bylaws language that was presented to the House of Delegates for e-vote in May 2020. The motion was approved by 76% of the delegates who voted. It should be noted that 50% of all delegates voted, which is slightly higher than past e-votes.
ASSP: Does this change devalue professional membership?
Pam: Our Society has four strategic pillars, two of which are critical to this discussion: member community and value of the profession, which some might call advocacy.
One goal under our member community pillar is to “continue to foster a learning and development ecosystem through the Leadership Development Experience, alignment of the Leadership Conference, and strengths-based learning modules/opportunities throughout the year.”
Under value of the profession, one goal is to “increase the number of ASSP members who hold OSH-related accredited professional designations.”
Providing opportunities for ASSP members to improve their leadership skills aids their professional development and increases the value they provide to their organizations. In addition, providing education and learning experiences to help our members achieve various professional designations enables them to demonstrate their technical expertise to their organizations. The good news is that those two goals can exist at the same time. More importantly, both are critical in advancing the profession.
The FAQ that accompanied the motion sums it nicely this way: “We believe that by offering more members the opportunity to hold a higher leadership position within ASSP, we will help them develop deeper skills that they, in turn, can demonstrate in their workplace, leading to more recognition and greater organizational support for their continued professional development. In addition to our commitment to the development of OSH professionals, we are committed to creating an inclusive environment. We believe this is a small step toward that.”
ASSP: How will this change help more members get on the path to leadership?
Pam: Let me start by providing a bit of context for how members are placed on the elections slate for the positions affected by this bylaws change. First, a member submits a petition to the Society Nominations and Elections Committee that details their experience and skills and explains why they want to run for the office. They also submit a brief platform statement.
The Nominations and Elections Committee then evaluates the petitions against the set of qualifications, and all petitioners are interviewed by a committee member. Following extensive and open discussion among committee members, the two candidates who best meet the qualifications and needs of the Society are approved for the slate.
It’s important to note that this change does not prohibit the Nominations and Elections Committee from considering professional membership when reviewing potential candidates. The change simply removes the requirement that a member hold this status to submit a petition and allows the committee to consider the whole of each candidate’s experiences and skills.
ASSP: In the end, this change means more of our members can increase their involvement, right?
Pam: If you were to ask our nearly 40,000 members why they belong to ASSP, the responses would vary widely. If you were to ask them why they get involved at the level they do, you would hear an even wider range of replies.
Members can aspire to achieve a designation that allows them to become a professional member and to improve their leadership skills by running for an elected office at the same time. They can also be interested in one goal and not the other, or one now and the other at a later time. Both goals have barriers related to factors such as time, money and employer support, and each member must determine which goal aligns with their professional desires at any given point.
The Board of Directors talk frequently about the importance of meeting our members where they are with what they need when they need it. This bylaws change helps us do just that. ASSP’s mission of working together for a safer stronger future is better when we endeavor to provide member choices and remove barriers to participation.
Nominations for our 2021 election are open through Sept. 17, 2020. Please visit our elections webpage to learn more about the open positions, view position descriptions and review nomination submission requirements.
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