Election Season Gotchas: How to Avoid Transition Trauma

by Rose Hamilton


Nobody wants to just be thrown into a PTO leadership role. There are several steps your group can take to help smooth the transition from one group of officers to the next. Transition issues are big to many groups.Take a look at the recent exchanges on our Question and Answer section to get a sense of what is on your colleagues’ minds.

And, in the meantime, if you are currently a leader, consider the following:

Plan for your successor. From the day a president steps into office, it’s important to begin succession planning. Succession shouldn’t be something that sneaks up on the group but rather an ongoing issue that is regularly looked at.

Recruit, recruit, recruit. It’s crucial to actively seek new leaders. Get out there and talk up the job and help make it sound like the rewarding experience we all know it can be.

Pass it on. To have a smooth transfer of power, you must have a smooth transfer of knowledge. Binders that include contacts, paperwork, how-to manuals, and various forms can be invaluable to incoming leaders. Ask officers and committee chairs to keep ongoing logs of their activities and then use these logs to create the binder.

Share the load. If you can’t find the right person for the job, consider job sharing. Or set up a system of copresidents and cochairs where the co-treasurer, for example, learns the job from the treasurer one year then takes over the next year.

Set term limits. Term limits aren’t just for politicians. Many PTOs have found that term limits help prevent some leaders from overstaying their welcome. Plus, they can give a green light to a volunteer who may be considering a leader-ship position but is reluctant to interfere with the current lineup of officers.

Create a position for past presidents. Sometimes the easiest way to get a president to move out is to designate a way that she can move up. Some PTOs achieve this by creating a “president emeritus” position. The formal title gives past leaders a feeling of legitimacy and connection. And at the same time, it ensures that past presidents will be accessible to newcomers who are seeking the voice of experience.

Keep things in perspective. It’s natural to disagree from time to time, and people will have different perspectives on topics. Keep disputes from turning personal by focusing discussions on the group’s purpose—helping the children and the school. Ask the principal or a board member to step in and referee if help is needed.



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