Skills Every Association Professional Should Have

The world of work is changing–here are the skills needed to keep up.

By Guilherme Lopes

woman with code projected on her face

We are all experiencing a dramatic transformation in the way we live, work, and interact with one another. In addition to a global pandemic, which has accelerated existing trends in remote work and will continue to impact the world of work as we know it, humankind has experienced a technological revolution unlike anything witnessed before.   

This double-disruption has transformed almost every industry in the world, including our own. It will also impact the skill sets needed for association professionals to remain relevant and succeed in achieving the mission of their organizations. Of course, there is no crystal ball to predict all the skills needed in the future; however, there are five skills that are crucial for association professionals.  

Analytical and Critical Thinking

The ability to analyze situations, consider various solutions and make decisions based on logic and reasoning has been an important skill for quite some time. Nevertheless, the pandemic and recent developments in technology have inevitably elevated the importance of analytical and critical thinking to a new level. Association professionals must be ready to deal with the unexpected, and utilize available data to assess the landscape and be able to make decisions quickly. A great example of this is how event planners had to swiftly adapt their thinking to address health and safety standards caused by the pandemic. In addition to dealing with the unexpected, association professionals must be ready for something inevitable: the wider use of data. You may have gotten away with ignoring data until now, but knowing how to extrapolate, interpret, explain, and most importantly, make decisions based on data, will be critical skills for success.

Digital Literacy

The pandemic has made the need for digital literacy more apparent than ever. Each one of us had to get comfortable with the expanded use of digital technologies to communicate, collaborate, share information, and solve problems. Knowing how to use a wide variety of software, apps, and the cloud is expected and even required in some positions. Digital literacy shouldn’t be restricted to the practical use of technology. It should also include basic concepts of emerging and evolving disciplines including artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Association professionals in leadership positions will need to pay special attention to this skill as understanding technology will be key for the ability to lead, communicate, collaborate, and make informed data-driven decisions.

Emotional and Social Intelligence

Emotional and Social Intelligence are skills that technology will not replace. After all, emotional and social intelligence are uniquely human traits. Relationships play a key role in the success of any organization, especially nonprofits, which rely on the collaboration between volunteers and staff to ensure the successful delivery of their missions. Nevertheless, relationship building is about to change. In a digital world, where in-person interaction may be less common, social skills will need to be sharpened.  Association professionals will need a high level of emotional and social intelligence to build trust with their boards, foster strong relationships with their donors and create an environment of collaboration and trust among their teams.  Finally, cultural and diversity intelligence will be a requirement as workplaces seek to become increasingly diverse.


Self-management skills had been on the rise for a while; however, the pandemic has definitely made this skill jump to the top of many lists similar to this one. Self-management can be quite broad, but it basically covers three areas: initiative, organization, and accountability. The most productive managers dislike micromanaging. Why? Individuals who require micromanaging are a time and resource drain. As associations become more global, diverse, and remote, self-management skills will be crucial for job security.

Active Learning

It appears that the future will require a lot of learning, right? Correct! This is why active learning concludes our list of skillsets of the future. Association professionals and employers must be ready for formal and informal learning transformations. Adaptation to this new world will require reskilling and upskilling at unprecedented levels. Active learning is when learners engage and apply the knowledge gained to their tasks, as opposed to passively taking in the information. Active learning requires that the learner shift from outdated modes of learning. Learning will need to shift toward creating instead of just passively listening and consuming, investigating and thinking, discussing, and collaborating. As a business imperative, active learning will need to become a part of the everyday workflow.

Are there other skills you believe will be key for association professionals in the future? What will you do to hone these skills?


About the Author

Guilherme Lopes is the executive director of ISTAT (International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading).

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