When Shonne Fegan-Erhardt was asked about running for the PTA president role at her kids’ school, her first reaction was to doubt she could fill the current leader’s shoes.
“You see, I always was a little in awe of our leader,” she says. “She was a poised presenter, comfortable around the school administrators, and in the know. I never thought I had what it took to be the president of our PTA. Until I was asked to do it.”
So before impulsively saying yes—or no—she talked it over first with her husband and then with her group’s retiring president, who pointed out there was no “right” way to lead and encouraged her to make the job her own.
“Her best advice to me was ‘You are a volunteer, so contribute as much of your own time as you have to give,’” she says.
Fegan-Erhardt then asked other parent group leaders about how they decided whether to run or not. Their answers gave her a clear idea of how much time and energy she’d need to commit to the president role, which—spoiler alert—she agreed to take, and she successfully held the position for several years.
If you’re thinking of taking on any leadership role, whether an executive board position or as a committee chair, Fegan-Erhardt suggests that the answers to these 10 questions will help you decide what’s best for you and ultimately for your group.
1. What's the time commitment, and can you manage it?
Know the monthly meeting dates and times, then find out how much extra time will be required in addition to the meetings. The outgoing board member, school principals, and administrative assistants are great resources. Also ask about weekly or monthly planning time you’ll need to schedule.
2. What sorts of skills will you need?
Ask how the work is mainly done—is it in face-to-face meetings, on the phone, over email? What computer skills will you need? More groups are moving their records to online data storage and sharing platforms and holding virtual meetings, so you might need to brush up on your Zoom or Google Drive skills if you’re not currently comfortable using them.
3. What are the group’s goals or big initiatives for the year?
Does the group have a large fundraising goal or need to have a large membership push? Knowing as much as possible in advance can help you prepare.
4. What strengths do you bring to the group?
Are you crafty? A financial whiz? Maybe you’re a pretty good delegator and know how to bring groups of people together to get things done. There’s a place for each individual’s strengths, so investigate ways your skill set can fit into the group. Lean on creative volunteers to handle the decorations if you’re great at coming up with ideas to help build your parent community.
5. Who will you be working with?
Get a clear sense for whether the other board members and volunteers are cooperative and willing to help get things done. Are there difficult personalities you should be aware of? Every group has some amount of conflict, so knowing about any potential problems ahead of time can help you prepare and strategize on a solution.
6. What are your personal intentions, and will this position help meet them?
Think about what draws you to the parent group. For Fegan-Erhardt, it was a desire to be more involved in her kids’ schools, help make positive changes, and create a stronger sense of community among the parents.
7. How will you be working?
Many leaders worry they’ll be doing everything themselves, so ask about committees, chairs, and volunteers and how they’ll help.
8. How will transition work?
Find out whether there’s a formal transition plan or whether the board takes a more ad hoc approach. You might be given a binder or passwords and electronic files, the key to a storage room, the banking information, and more. If you can only serve one term, check whether there’s a plan to transition out of the position too.
9. How does your family feel about it?
The position will take away some of your family time, so you need their support to make it work.
10. Is there someone better suited for the job?
Or, are you better suited to a different role? Take a long look inside and honestly assess what you can bring to the group.
Fegan-Erhardt ultimately decided to take the plunge. Despite some of the questions she heard from friends (such as “Are you crazy?”), she enjoyed her time. She went on to be co-president of the middle school PTA.
"I’m still learning and feel like I’m helping make a difference for our schools and students. And that’s what keeps me going."
Already took the plunge? Congratulations! We have resources that will help you transition into the role smoothly. Download our free New Leader Kit.
Originally posted in 2014 and updated regularly.