To many people, the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) feels like a science-fiction movie come to life, with machines performing roles previously occupied by humans.
“AI is introducing an era of great change. There will be a necessary shift in how we do our jobs,” said Camille Sanders, CAE, senior director of career and workforce solutions for ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership.
Sanders said that people can stay ahead of AI and other automation tools by leveraging skills that AI hasn’t mastered, such as critical thinking, creativity, complex problem-solving, and communication.
These skills are essential for leadership and a pathway to career growth.
“While it feels that managers might be potentially extinct in a much more AI world, no, there’s always going to be a need for managing and supporting people,” said Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD, CAE, a psychologist and principal at Executive Therapy & Consulting.
Remaining marketable amid advanced technologies will take a commitment to developing essential skills.
A Look Into AI Anxiety
Anxiety about AI is rooted in the fear that technology will outpace the person, “the worry that your responsibilities will be completed by AI rather than you,” Dr. El-Ghoroury said.
Nearly 40 percent of U.S. workers report worrying that AI will replace some or all of their work duties. It’s not misplaced concern: Up to 30 percent of hours worked in the United States could be automated by 2030, according to a 2023 report from McKinsey. That’s reflected in sites such as Will Robots Take My Job?, which allows people to enter their job title and see whether their role is vulnerable to replacement by automation.
Association jobs that are at “imminent risk” according to the website include sales, administration, business operations, financial operations, and creative services.
“We are not trying to send anybody into a panic. Imminent risk does not mean that jobs in these sectors are going to disappear overnight,” Sanders said. “Any change is accompanied by some risk, but this is a real opportunity for people to focus on increasing their market value in the workplace.”
Going Beyond Technical Skills
Although AI may infringe on certain jobs, it’s not the only threat. People can be at risk of job replacement for a variety of reasons and at any stage of their careers. Long-tenured professionals may resist change, limiting their value and putting themselves at risk. Younger professionals who are technically proficient at their jobs might think interpersonal skills aren’t necessary to advance.
“An employee can be technically good at a job but still not succeed in a role if they are not adept at collaboration, teamwork, time management, and leadership,” Sanders said. “Those are the things that developing your essential skills, or ‘soft skills,’ helps bring to the table.”
Having essential skills becomes more critical as people ascend in their career path.
“The higher up you go—not just in associations, but in most industries—the more likely you are to manage people, and managing people requires understanding social dynamics, how to read people’s emotions and help them,” Dr. El-Ghoroury said. “Those are really helpful skills for people to have, and they are not likely to be learned by AI for a while.”
Wanted: A Learner’s Mindset
People can learn essential skills, but they must be willing to seek out the opportunities.
“The thing about managing people is that in general we’re not taught it,” Dr. El-Ghoroury said. “I think many managers could benefit from basic management techniques—learning reinforcement, how to listen, how to have difficult conversations. Those kinds of skills seem very simple, but they are core skills.”
Essential skills, like any type of skill, are best developed through a mix of learning and doing.
“Programs that can offer opportunities to not just learn essential skills, but also to practice them and get some mentoring or coaching on those skills, that would be ideal,” Dr. El-Ghoroury said.
A Comprehensive Course for Essential Skills
ASAE Business Solutions has developed just such a program to help association professionals hone their essential skills.
ReadyMe is designed to give people information and guidance on becoming a stronger leader and provide opportunities to receive mentorship and to network. The program contains three key elements:
- A series of seven online modules focuses on essential skills that are integral to leadership development.
- A virtual mentorship program connects participants with highly qualified association professionals, such as CEOs and chief operating officers.
- A one-day in-person leadership academy provides an opportunity to interact with mentors and other association professionals.
“ASAE developed ReadyMe to help people who want to become strong leaders,” Sanders said. “Association professionals can expect to come into this program and develop leadership skills, communication skills, the ability to collaborate, to really connect with others—all of the things that help leaders shine and thrive.”