I remember clearly my reaction the first time someone pointed to me when the PTA president mentioned her term was up the next year. “No, I don’t have the time; I can’t fill her shoes,” was my thought. You see, I always was a little in awe of our leader. 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.  But before impulsively saying yes (or no), I spent some time thinking about this decision and if was the right thing to do.

First, I told my husband I was contemplating taking this on, and we discussed pros and cons. Second, I thought about what would or wouldn’t sway me to take the job. I decided there were two non-negotiables. One, I had to line up a successor so I wouldn’t “get stuck” in the job until my youngest graduated! Two, I wanted to make sure I had a solid executive board who had my back.

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Then I talked to our outgoing president. I asked many questions such as “How do you run a meeting?” “How often do you meet with the principal?” “Do you have to attend every event?” “How many hours a week do you spend on it?” and so on. She helped me realize that I could make the job my own. Her best advice to me was “You are a volunteer, so contribute as much of your own time as you have to give.” 

That was spot-on—there is no “right” way to lead. But still, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to do it all “wrong.” 

I also asked other parent group leaders (past or present) how they decided whether to run or not. After talking to these people, I developed the following list of questions to consider before taking a leadership position. Some are mine and some are theirs, and all hopefully are helpful:

1. What is the time commitment, and can I manage it? I already knew the monthly meeting dates and times, but needed to find out about the extra time required in addition to the meetings. The outgoing president was a big resource for me, as were the school principals and administrative assistants. I asked them how often we would talk a week or a month to plan the time needed.

2. What sorts of skills would I need? I asked about how the work was mainly done—was it in face-to-face meetings, on the phone, over email? I found out that having computer skills was a big plus, as our PTA was moving more and more to online communications.  

3. What are goals or big initiatives for the year? I had been attending the monthly meetings but wondered what happened behind the scenes—did our group have a large fundraising goal or need to have a large membership push? Knowing in advance to the extent possible what was expected helped me get prepared.

4. What strengths do I bring to the group? I know I’m not a really crafty mom or a financial whiz. But I’m a pretty good delegator and can also bring groups of people together to get things done. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that we had a lot of great creative volunteers who could handle the decorations, while I could handle other issues like coming up with ideas to help build our parent community.

5. Who will I be working with? It was important to me to make sure I had other volunteers on the board who were cooperative and willing to help get things done.

6. What are my intentions and will this help meet them? I know many of us were drawn to the parent group to provide community service and improve school for all kids. I realized I wanted to be more involved in my kids’ schools so I could help make positive changes. I wanted to create a stronger sense of community among our parents.

7. How will I be working? I asked around to see if I would be doing it all myself—and luckily for me, the answer was no. Our PTA had many committees and chairs volunteering to help.

8. How will transition work? While our group didn’t have a formal transition plan, we did have an exchange of electronic files. This helped a lot! I also wanted to be sure there was a plan to succeed out of the position too. 

9. How does my family feel about it? I realized the position would take me away from some of my family time, and I needed their support to make it work.

10. Is there someone better suited for the job? This prompted me to take a long look in the mirror and assess what I thought I could bring to the group.

I ultimately decided to take the plunge. Despite some of the questions I had from friends (such as “Are you crazy?”), I’ve really enjoyed it. I even accepted the middle school PTA copresidency this year. 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.

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Originally posted in 2014 and updated regularly