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The Manager’s Job

By: Chuck Miller

I was asked once about the skills that are required to be a manager of a community association. The young man questioning me was considering the possibility of a manager position among options as he tried to forge a career for himself.

From my own years in HOA and condo association management, I learned that it takes a variety of skills to make a good association manager. A manager must interact with a variety of people who have different needs and wants, and must deliver positive results in a very timely fashion, executed with a smile and accomplished on budget. The managerial position also requires good organizational abilities, personal attentiveness, and a variety of property management skills.

When looked at from this perspective, it becomes apparent that the association manager position is really several jobs in one. Below is a list of some essential skills that go into making a good HOA manager.

Communication Specialist
The association management business is not really about “property management” as much as it is about “people management.” By this, I don’t intend to imply that people need to be managed, but that the job of manager is more about interacting with people and solving problems than anything. This role can involve supervising staff, leading by example, acting as advisor to the Board of Directors, etc. A good manager must be able to communicate and work with people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Some boards of directors have a “hands off” approach, while others are very involved – perhaps sometimes too involved. When the contractors and homeowners are added in as well, the result is that you’ll be dealing with many different people – some friendly and some not so friendly. A good manager will find that right mix of communication based on experience and working with their audience over time. The better the communication is between the manager and the board of directors, the more secure they will feel with you as their community manager – and the easier your job will be!

Consultant / Advisor
Consulting with and advising the Board of Directors is an important aspect of being a good community manager. I have observed managers who simply take orders from their Board as opposed to advising the Board about the appropriate course of action. This can happen for several reasons. The manager could be just taking the path of least resistance, or perhaps interpreting what the board wants or needs as the correct answer. The board of directors could also be a group of “Type A” personalities who believe they have all the right answers. An experienced manager shouldn’t be afraid to speak up if he sees the community headed towards a bad decision. In fact, it would be a mistake to not speak up and simply watch an association make mistakes that could be prevented. There is a fine balance between acting as an advisor as you assist a community versus trying to completely calling the shots yourself.

An association manager should have a good understanding of the financial basics of the association. He should be aware of the standard monthly, quarterly, or annual cash inflows and outflows for an association. Knowing these basics is important when creating the annual budget for the association. In fact, without basic HOA accounting and financial knowledge, it is difficult to plan for maintenance and other projects. The most important question that every HOA manager faces is, “Where does our money go?” A good manager needs to be prepared to answer this question.

While an association manager does not need to have a contractor license to be a manager, he does need to be familiar with contractors and how they operate. This means knowing a few key things to help projects progress smoothly. Your contractors, just like you, are professionals in their line of work. They deserve to be compensated for their time when they assist you. At the same time, the more you know about routine repair and replacement projects that are common to associations, the better off you will be as a manager. By having an understanding of approximate costs of small projects and the time frames that are associated with completing them, you will be able to better coordinate completion of the jobs with minimum disruption to association members, as well as understand jobs specifications and project bids.

Negotiation skills are something you expect an agent or lawyer to have, but good negotiation skills are also very helpful for an association manager. Because the manager has to answer to many people with different agendas, being able to negotiate and mediate different issues is very important. Whether it is negotiating a better price from a contractor, solving a neighbor vs. neighbor dispute, or pleasing the different personalities on your board of directors, the ability to be a problem solver is invaluable. Unfortunately, it is not possible to please everyone. The job of the association management professional is simply to please as many people as possible, while still upholding the responsibilities for which you were hired: maintaining and improving property values, and managing the community with efficiency, while still acting within the constraints of state laws.

It takes a variety of skills to make a good association manager. Not all managers are the same, nor should they be. In fact, many managers have skills in addition to those listed above, which just adds to their overall value as an association manager.

Contact us today for more information on how our licensed property managers can assist your association.