A lot of people in the industry bring up ethics in reference to fraud. Of course stealing money, or taking kickbacks is against the CAM Manager's code of ethics. It's against any code of ethics because it's morally wrong. And you might think that you would never do that, so this doesn't apply to you. But there is a more insidious attack on our ethical standards, and it is one of attrition. Something that we have allowed to happen to ourselves and our profession.
Not on My Job Description
Community Association Managers walk a fine line. As a professional manager, your job is to advise the Boards of the community associations you manage to help them better govern their communities. The job consists of a lot of important tasks, from managing projects with vendors, to maintaining budgets, to an understanding of the law and knowing when a lawyer needs to be brought to the table. But a great deal of what you do is simply dealing with the day to day minutia - performing tasks for the board, communicating with owners, and putting out wildfires that spring up on a daily basis.
However, there is an unspoken aspect of the manager's job that's not on your job description, but it colors every aspect of your job.
Keeping the Board Happy
We've known for some time that the manager plays the biggest role in the relationship between the management company and the board. It's the manager that comes to board meetings. It's the manager they see in the community. It's the manager that answers their questions. There is an expectation that the manager will keep the community happy enough that they don't leave the management company for a competitor. So while the contract is between the community association and a management company, the weight of that relationship lies primarily on the manager's shoulders.
This puts a lot of pressure on the CAM Manager, particularly when the board is not completely satisfied (and let's face it, what board is ever completely satisfied?) The management company relies on the manager to keep the board happy. To not make waves or rock the boat. This can create a new kind of conflict of interest, one in which the manager is afraid to perform her duties as a professional manager when it may anger the board. Even managers for self-managed communities can experience this issue, since the manager for those communities is working directly for the board.
How can you advise the board that they are going down the wrong path, or that they are in breach of their fiduciary responsibility when you are afraid your job will be on the line? It's one of the delicate lines a professional manager must be able to walk, and yet, managers need to have support from their employers and the acceptance of the board that this is part of their role as manager.
We Have an Ethical Code
If you look at other credentialed professional jobs, like a CPA or a doctor, there is a ethical standard that is tied to the credential, that governs the actions an individual takes. We have an expectation that anyone carrying these credentials will act honorably and within their ethical code. We believe that when a CPA says the books are in order and there is no fraudulent activity, that it is true because we have faith in the CPA designation. We believe that a doctor will help treat anyone in need, even a criminal, because that is their ethical code.
By the same token, it is time to take back our own ethical code. Community Association Managers are held by an ethical standard, and that standard can and should govern the decisions that you make and the advice you provide to your clients. Even if that advice doesn't paint them in the best light. Even if it means you might anger the client. Because that's why the board is paying for the services of a professional manager in the first place.
Taking Back Management
You are the professional. You must provide guidance and advice to the board to help them act in the best interest of the community. You must be able to recognize when they are making a mistake and help steer them away from it, or at least help them understand their options.
CAM managers are not waiters in a restaurant taking orders from the board and fulfilling them. You are the sommelier. Your job is to think of things they didn't already think of, and advise them on the best options.
Sometimes they'll still make the wrong choices, and that is their prerogative as the customer. But when they do, like choosing to pair red wine with chicken, they should do so knowing all their options. And when that happens, you can rest in the knowledge that you have done everything in your power as a professional manager to guide them in the right direction.
*Image credit: Shunichi Kouroki via flickr