As jugglers of multiple and oftentimes complex tasks, association managers must be adept at mediating between board members and unit owners, as well as resolving all manner of maintenance and legal issues. To this end, association managers don’t have 'typical' days, but rather varied and challenging ones that are often complicated, and require a particular skill set to navigate.
“The association manager for any asset type is mainly to make sure that every property is running smoothly and achieving the goals and purposes of the owners, client or investor,” says Alfred Ojejinmi, president and CEO of the East Brunswick, New Jersey-based Presbeuo Group Inc. “The manager is the captain of the ship and must know everything regarding the property such as physical, functional, social, fiscal, operations and governance.”
While the size of the property dictates the involvement and responsibilities of an association manager, the day-to-day operations must be held in check in order to ensure smooth sailing. For many seasoned association managers, the ability to handle any given situation that arises is a welcome challenge.
“All managers need great interpersonal skills, because you have to be able to handle any crisis that comes up,” says Lawrence Sauer, a managing partner at the Freehold-based Association Advisors, which oversees approximately 50 properties. “With this job, each day is different—really no day is the same, and that is the reason I love it.”
The Juggling Act
In order to do their respective job well, managers require a wide array of both concrete skills and specific personality traits. In the end, it is the board that ultimately trusts the association manager to make the right call regardless of the situation.
“The role of the association manager is to act in an advisory capacity, to assist the board in making wise and fiscally responsible decisions for the well-being of the entire association,” says James Cervelli, a sales agent at Michael Cervelli Real Estate in North Bergen, New Jersey. “The roles intersect at any decision-making because the decisions are typically based on information supplied or advised by the association manager.”
Since the role of the board is essentially that of policy making, board members must take a team approach when working with an association manager. To this end, Ojejinmi says board members must read all reports, attend all meetings and make decisions that are in the overall interest of the community.
“The professional community association manager provides information, training and leadership on community association living to the board, committees and the community at large. He or she must develop a structure for decision making through board meetings and committee structure,” says Ojejinmi. “The professional community association manager must supervise all contractors and employees, conduct regular inspections of the property, enforce rules and regulations of the community, prepare specifications for contracts, understand the governing documents and byelaws of the association and generally communicate everything regarding the community to the board through reports.”
The Personality Test
Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live, once said: “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” For association managers, 'show time' is a continuously moving target. As such, they have to be producer, director, actor, editor and cameraman. In short, they require a personality that can assume any of the “hats” needed to wear on any given day.
“A good manager has patience, understanding and the ability to solve problems,” says Sauer. “They must have not only technical skills but good verbal and written skills.” Cervelli adds, “Communication skills are very important. It’s also important to be fastidious, patient and empathetic to a certain extent. Construction knowledge is also a major asset.”
Whereas an association manager might have a background in construction or be well-versed in business software operating programs, having the 'right' personality for the job is not easily taught. In some cases, it can’t be taught at all. It’s more so an inherent gift.
“An association manager should have interpersonal skills, patience and must love interacting with people,” says Ojejinmi. “Another item we demand or try to build up in our manager is self-esteem. A person who does not have a good self-esteem cannot be an effective community association manager.”
A solid backbone is required of an association manager due to the responsibilities and changes they face, notes Sauer. He says that in the Northeast each season—be it summer or winter—presents a unique set of challenges. For example, Superstorm Sandy was not only a horrendously unique late season hurricane; there was no way to fully prepare for its aftermath, which created stress for association managers, boards and unit owners alike.
“I have 20 years of association management and community association experience,” says Sauer. “You can be prepared to a certain extent, especially as it relates to the seasons, but there is just a wide variety of circumstances that can happen so you must do your best to be prepared for all situations.”
As is the case with weather-related events, association managers have to understand the different needs of associations that might be comprised of unit owners or tenants that come from different cultures and speak more than one language. The latter often causes issues in terms of accurately translating important community messages.
“The personality of the manager for the management of a community association is largely dictated by the composition of the board and the people who live in those communities. For instance, a multicultural-based community will require someone who understands the culture of the various ethnic groups that live in that community,” says Ojejinmi. “The temperaments must be calm, understanding and patient. Some personalities are better suited for multifamily properties where the manager must deal with renters and not homeowners. A manager must be fair, firm, friendly and free to execute his or her responsibilities.”
Poet Laureate Robert Frost once wrote, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” This sentiment holds true for association managers, all of whom benefit from the various programs designed to further respective careers.
“We encourage our association managers to attend industry-based seminars and strive for industry specific designations,” says Cervelli. “We sponsor ongoing education whether it is industry-based or private.”
One of the industry leaders in education is the Community Associations Institute (CAI), which has several programs specifically for managers—CAI’s Professional Management Development Program (PMDP). The courses, which can be taken in a classroom setting or online, are designed to enhance skills, knowledge and job opportunities.(There is a Nevada chapter of CAI that you can visit for more information).
“CAI has dedicated curriculum geared toward entry level to seasoned association managers,” says Sauer. “We also have internal training to strengthening skills sets such as in time management. Every firm is different. We recommend CAI so association managers can get on an educational track, but we don’t require it. And we pay for it, if so desired.”
To Sauer’s point, many firms do provide in-house training on different topics such as human resources, contracts, OSHA and work-life balance. Aside from CAI, firms may also take advantage of courses and seminars provided by professional organizations such as the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), which has a chapter in Las Vegas and Reno.
“Some firms reimburse a manager for sitting and passing professional exams such as the M100 provided by CAI or the CID course provided by IREM,” says Ojejinmi. “In my opinion, a good firm must make it a priority to invest in their people because the people are the assets of the company. The better the people, the more productive they are and the benefits accrue to the company.”
Checks & Balances
And while it is critical for association managers to continue their respective education as a way to better serve unit owners, boards need to have a system of checks and balances in place in order to ensure successful management practices are being carried out.
“Feedback from board members or homeowners is a good gauge for individual managers or companies. We have interoffice meetings and periodic reviews to see how our managers are doing on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” says Cervelli. “The residents and board also have a role. They should be responsive and keep the best interests of the community as a whole in mind.”
For Association Advisors, a methodology is in place that encourages dialogue between boards, residents and association managers. “We meet with the boards every 30 days and we discuss what happened the previous 29 days and look at the coming 30 days, which requires putting together an action list of items to be accomplished,” says Sauer adding, “We also provide a questionnaire to the board on an annual or bi-annual basis to gauge feedback.”
While expert communication skills, field experience and continued education are essential requirements of a successful association manager, ultimately the performance of a management company is judged by the terms of the management contract agreement.
“The specific duties of the management company are translated into the management plan, goals and objectives for the community. A yearly evaluation should be completed by the board and this will be used to evaluate the performance of the management firm. The same applies to the association manager,” says Ojejinmi. “He or she should be evaluated by the employment agreement and requirements of the client. If the requirements of the client are not met, then the performance will be below expectations.”
So, whether a manager handles just a handful of boutique properties, or devotes 40+ hours per week to managing a single large development, communication, personal commitment to the job, and to professional enrichment are what separate the so-so from the super when it comes to management.