I recently completed a one-year term as the President of the Seattle Post of the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME). It was a challenging and yet rewarding period of time at the top, but my rise to the top was not sudden, nor was my motivation to be the president someday.
I have found my participation in professional associations extremely rewarding on both a personal and professional level. I started my career in the Civil Engineers Corps of the Navy. It was a time when your boss said “Go Join SAME,” and you paid for your membership yourself and went to the meetings. As a young engineer, I learned a lot at luncheon presentations and events about engineering and the business end of my profession; the directive to join was one of the better career recommendations I received.
As I hung around the organization, somebody soon asked me to help take money at the luncheons, which I was happy to do. Then I was asked to be part of an event committee – and this is where I really learned about networking and building lifelong professional friendships. Even though I was working with colleagues and competitors in the industry, we came together for a common cause. Everyone gave their best, people stepped up to do more than they were asked. We developed a great camaraderie and continued to put on the annual event for several years. Today, these are people I trust deeply. Even though we are competitors, I know that if I need advice or consultation, they will give me honest opinions and direction (and we respect that we can’t share all our secrets!). As time went on, I became a full member of the Board of Directors and eventually was asked to be President for a year.
I recommend joining a professional society, particularly early in your career and when looking to learn about more than just your current project. Find ways to contribute beyond just attending a meeting or conference. Volunteering will help you get to know others in your industry and build relationships that will last a lifetime. Leadership opportunities will open for you early in your career, and the lessons learned while coordinating among others towards accomplishment of a goal have consequences of failure that are softer than when experienced later in life or in other venues; and the appreciation for a job well done is greater.
If you are in management, encourage your team to join and actively participate in a professional society. Work within your organization to allow staff to use part of their work day to support a professional society. The benefits come back to the organization as well as the individual.
I have found my participation in professional organizations has allowed me to grow professionally, learning things I wouldn’t otherwise. Involvement in professional organizations has contributed to my personal advancement to the top of my company.