Board Development

The Fine Line Between Professional and Lay Leadership

Professional staff and lay leadership work together on a weekly if not daily basis.  While each group has different roles in the organization, these roles and responsibilities often become blurred by working hand-in-hand to achieve one mission.  It is important to clearly define the roles of each group to ensure they work together most effectively.  In some organizations, lay leaders end up in charge of tasks that should be handled by full-time staff.  In others, lay leaders are under utilized.  Staff have a better understanding of an organization’s procedures, core values, mission, do’s and don’ts and policies. Lay leaders have a unique understanding of your organization’s core community and will help guide decisions, events and campaigns down the right path. Each group can unknowingly cause negative repercussions by making decisions that should be made by the other so it is very important that roles be defined from the beginning.

Professional Staff: Paid employees of the organization, hired to fill a specific role at the organization.

Lay Leadership: Volunteers appointed to a committee, board or other volunteer group to help the organization with an initiative.  In the case of a board, lay leaders are key in making decisions for the well being of the organization.

As part of the development team, you might be asked to help manage committees of volunteers, lead meetings, email and call lay leadership.  With this, you may come across an instance where a lay leader has moved an initiative forward or suggested taking control of an aspect of a campaign.  On the other hand, you may notice that a lay leader is being under utilized or not following through on their responsibilities. Lastly, you may have unknowingly started to perform tasks that a lay leader should perform.

Here’s where you come in – make sure that you communicate with your supervisor about any issues that may arise or questions you may have about responsibilities.  Read through the job description of the lay leaders that you are working with.  In addition, there may be a specific circumstance that has prevented a lay leader from their commitment. Your supervisor will be able to make an appropriate decision on how to move forward.  It’s always better to clarify roles early on than be in a position where the organization is harmed.