Interview by Elena Milusheva, PMP
Interview With Paul Selwold - Current PMI Swiss Chapter President - From Newsletter Journalist to Chapter President - Development Paths for Volunteers
In order to strengthen their leadership pipeline, many companies focus on developing people on the job - by offering stretch assignments, rotation through different functions, assignments abroad, exposure to key customers and senior executives.
Also within the PMI chapter, volunteers can take up leadership assignments which can help them prepare for top positions. The insights into the various aspects of an organization, the extended network of PM professionals, the ability to find a way out of the most impossible situations and leading without authority will - if they play their cards right - pave their way to the desired position. Over 30 volunteers seize such opportunities in Switzerland as Board of Director members, team leads or in an advisory capacity.
Why so many people desire top positions and why so few can reach team? Curious to hear about the stories behind the scene, I am approaching Paul Selwold - the current PMI Swiss chapter president:
- How does it feel to be the president of one of the biggest PMI chapters in Europe with 120+ volunteers, 1350+ PMP certification holders and 1600+ members?
- I feel really proud! I say this, because I think we have a great chapter with a dedicated board of directors. Becoming the president of this chapter felt like something I wanted to do was able to be realized. What I mean is, in order to become president of this chapter, you must present yourself as a candidate for the role, and your candidacy must be voted on by the other board members. So, like with many big decisions, you risk rejection. I was really proud to stand in front of so many chapter members, at the AMM 2018, and announce the objectives of the 2018 Board of Directors.
- What is the way of becoming a PMI chapter president?
- First one has to have been on the board of directors (BOD), and to do this, one must first have been a committed volunteer of a PMI chapter. So the simple answer is: get involved as a volunteer and interact with the other members in some way! becoming a BOD member is a democratic process: you must be elected by the members. You do not need to have been a director or team lead, but you do need to rely on membership recognition and confidence. Once on the BOD, you need to demonstrate your dedication and make sure you have good connection to the other board members.
- Why have you decided to go down this path?
- Becoming first a director, and then a BOD member was a decision I made while engaging with other chapter members. It was clear that the chapter needed help, and someone in the chapter was asking me to "step up" to higher role. However, the decision to run for President was a bit more mixed. Mostly the motivation came from being able to attend the PMI LIM (Leadership Institute Meeting), which we support our BOD and Directors to attend. the LIM really opens up your horizons: how many good people and good ideas are available to you, through PMI. Representing Switzerland at the LIM was a goal of mine. But some readers may recall: I actually announced at the AMM 2017 that I was stepping down from volunteering (I was tired from my job!). However, I changed my mind when I realized how many new members of the BOD there was going to be, and I felt very strongly that I could help the next board, in the role of President.
- How does the cost-benefit calculation for being a president look like?
- It looks great! I encourage all people to allow themselves to consider this role, if they feel it is something they want to do. It looks great because it is not in any significant way more demanding that being a VP on the BOD. All positions I just named are significantly influenced by the engagement and enthusiasm of the volunteers who help out, and in this regard, being President is no different than being VP.
- What is that what people do not know about the role of a chapter president?
- Probably people do not always keep in mind that this is a volunteer position like any other. The president role has a function in leading and decision-making, but it is not a hierarchical authority: I cannot reward or fire other BOD members.
- What is your favourite experience as a chapter president?
- Maybe I answer this in terms of personal reward. With this BOD, I tried an approach called "Tiger Team" to allow the BOD to tackle chapter problems or to launch chapter initiatives using a method that I can describe as a controlled small brainstorm. Not only did the BOD VPs give me positive feedback, but I also heard other participants from other chapters at the LIM reference that they heard about this, and were interested. I felt like I made a significant contribution to how chapter volunteers can collaborate.
- How much from the learnings from the chapter can be transferred to NGOs and companies from the private industry?
- Well, working with volunteers requires a strong set of soft skills, learning to lead without relying on formal authority. For sure this can be useful in NGO environments, where much of the workforce may be volunteer-based. Soft skills are anyway becoming more and more valuable in the workplace, and chapter engagement definitely lets a person develop these.
If you are willing to experience first-hand what it is like to be a volunteer, check out our vacancies here https://pmi-switzerland.ch/index.php/become-a-volunteer?limit=all