by Steven Hacker | September 01, 2017
The American Traffic Safety Services Association represents 1,400 companies in road, traffic and highway safety. The association was established in 1966, when it's mission reflected its original name as the American Traffic Safety Control Devices Association.

Today, much of ATSSA's mission involves an advocacy role in federal and state legislation. "This was not always the case," says Roger Wentz, CAE, president and CEO of ATSSA. "Six years ago, we surveyed members to probe their thinking. Much to our surprise, we discovered that most considered government affairs their top priority."

ATSSA subsequently launched a new government affairs program. Success, Wentz knew, meant engaging members who would embrace the association's initiatives and seek to nurture the knowledge and skills that competent citizen-lobbyists need. 

"We built a three-day leadership-training program that takes place immediately preceding our annual Capitol Hill member fly-in," Wentz says. To apply, members use professionally developed worksheets to help them identify their own leadership  ethos; these worksheets are then evaluated by an advisory group of past chairs, who choose 15 candidates each year.

For the training, "Our goal is to deliver content that members will find both personally and professionally useful," notes Wentz. Along the way, trainers lead explorations of each participant's personal values relating to matters such as leadership, "visioning" and organizational relationships. Achieving results in the wider world is a core goal.

A reputation for results
Since ATSSA launched the initiative five years ago, its paid Capitol Hill staff has quadrupled. Federal funding of the Highway Bill, a crucial measure for ATSSA members, has more than tripled, from $700 million to $2.4 billion, due in part to ATSSA's stepped-up advocacy efforts. 

The following ATSSA "visioning statements" reveal the connection between its leadership development program and the results it is achieving:

• "Officials at the local, state and federal levels will respond [to ATSSA's vision] by increasing the allocation of funding to support safer roads."

• "ATSSA and its activities will be the centerpiece of all elements of the roadway safety industry."

• "ATSSA members will be proud to belong to what will be recognized as an 'elite group of roadway safety professionals.' When people 'think safety,' they will 'think ATSSA.'  "

The ATSSA leadership training experience holds valuable learning lessons for associations of all types and sizes. Fundamentally it discloses the vital need to always stay connected to your members' actual wants and aspirations, and then address those needs in results-oriented ways. Helping volunteer leaders focus on ways to achieve appropriate objectives can only build and embellish your association's leadership brand.