Executive directors are the face of your association’s administration. They’re the voice of your group and provide leadership and direction to not only the staff but also your members. While their skills in management are important, it’s essential to choose an individual that inspires and connects. Think personality and experience over specific skills. Any good leader can learn skills; but an engaging personality cannot be taught. Joan Garry, author and consultant for nonprofits,  says that “often search firms and committees look for certain skills in hiring an Executive Director. This is a mistake. Attributes are more important,”. 

So what kind of attributes makes a great executive director? How can you find the right person? After meeting numerous executive directors through their AMS search and doing a bit of our own research, we’ve established four traits that make a great candidate.

Strength in Convictions

Great leaders have a solid grasp on their convictions. Even when they face criticism, they hold true to their beliefs. Find a director that values integrity, honesty, and genuinely cares about the wellbeing of your association. By sourcing directors whose values clearly align with your association, you’re much more apt to succeed.

Consistency in Actions

Members want to know that the actions of your director will be consistent over time. While it may not be as glamorous, consistency can translate to predictability which members can trust. Consistency also shows discipline and dedication. Following through on your word time after time garners respect and hopefully, an increase in member engagement.

Engagement Online and in-person

If your members only know your executive director through their online bio and profile picture, they’re less likely to connect and engage. Make your director more accessible to members by adding their email address to the site and giving opportunities for members to communicate with the director online. Most members aren’t used to receiving replies from the executive director, so when they do, it goes a long way. The best leaders also participate in events to connect with members in person. Even a simple handshake or brief conversation with the ED can help members feel more connected.


Executive directors are responsible for providing long-term direction for your association. They needs to have a clear vision of long-term goals that help direct daily decisions. That means saying no to something that sounds good initially but doesn’t actually align with your association’s needs. Similar to our point above, their consistency in action also helps members understand the needs and goal of the group.

Along with the four characteristics/skills we mentioned above, executive directors need to be great listeners. At the end of the day, though they are making the decisions, the true “compass” of your group needs to come from members. Listening to their feedback shows you care and respect the needs of your members.

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