Association Leadership Academy - Level One


Enrollment: July 15 through August 31, 2019
Sessions: September 2019 through May 2020

The Association Leadership Academy (ALA) Level One is an eight-month accelerated program for association executives and emerging executives in the association management field. The academy offers a unique learning experience over a series of monthly educational forums led by accomplished association and corporate leaders. 

Academy graduates become part of a group of distinguished association professionals who have completed the program. Graduates are recognized among their peers and receive a certificate at the Empire State Society of Association Executives (ESSAE) conference and trade show in May 2020. 

ALA credits count toward the completion of the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation. Graduates have found the academy curriculum beneficial in preparing and qualifying for certification and/or recertification.

Graduates are encouraged to remain involved by connecting with peers, engaging in ESSAE committees, and helping formulate future educational programs.


ESSAE’s Association Leadership Academy is a great way to formalize and update everything you know about running associations — and to learn in areas you want to grow. The quality of the Academy’s instructors and the information-sharing among peers sets association professionals on a new path. 

The Association Leadership Academy is open to all ESSAE members and non-members. We invite association executives, senior association staff, support staff with management potential or interest in studying association management, and current and aspiring Certified Association Executives (CAEs) to enroll in the program.


Participants in the Association Leadership Academy will emerge with knowledge and critical decision-making ability on timely and significant topics relevant to association management. See the full schedule for program-by-program details.


Courses will be held at the New York State School Boards Association training center in Latham, New York. Courses will be held according to the schedule listed below. From time to time, education sessions may be offered offsite. Participants will be notified well in advance of venue changes.


Enrollment: July 15 through August 31, 2019
Sessions: September 2019 through May 2020

September 13 (9 AM–2:30 PM): Developing Your Personal Leadership Journey
Prepare to lay the foundation of your leadership journey. What are your leadership perceptions as you start? Where do you want to focus in the coming months? Where do you have expertise that you could guide others?  Get ready to explore practical, tangible leadership qualities and skill sets that you can start honing immediately. We will learn together how we can listen better and communicate more clearly. Get to know your classmates and as we lay the groundwork of support and connection for the months to come. 

Speaker: Lowell Aplebaum, CAE, CPF, CEO & Strategy Catalyst, Vista Cova, LLC

October 4 (9 AM–2:30 PM): Effective Association Management Practices
Examine the fundamental elements required to direct today’s associations. Explore how to build strong and productive relationships among volunteer and staff leaders, as well as how to effectively meet board expectations, motivate a limited staff, and stay ahead of membership needs and interests. 

Speaker: Robert Harris, CAE, CEO, Harris Management Group, Inc.

November 15 (9 AM–2:30 PM): Advocacy, Politics, and Grassroots Campaigns
Limited resources, conflicting priorities, and unclear rules surrounding PACs, Lobbying, and Grassroots campaigns, make work challenging for associations seeking to represent their members’ interests in the state’s legislative process. Examine effective advocacy practices and strategies you can use to advance your association’s advocacy programs with 21st century tools and an understanding of today’s political climate. 
Speakers: James Carr and David Previte, Hinman Straub Advisors, LLC

January 17 (9 AM–2:30 PM): Human Resources Management
Get an overview of the current laws and challenges pertaining to association workplaces, including the Family and Medical Leave Act; sexual harassment; hiring and firing; and other workforce dilemmas and liability issues. Focus on how to set direction, as well as mobilize and motivate your workforce.
Speaker: John Bagyi, Esq., Bond Schoeneck & King

February 7 (9 AM–12:00 PM): Marketing and Communications
Strong market strategy and communications are key to building and maintaining membership within your association and, just as important, to taking your association’s message to broader audiences. Get an overview of key marketing principles and internal and external communications practices that will put your association in the best light and get results.
Speaker: Gramercy Communications

March 6 (9 AM–12 PM): Understanding the Fiduciary Responsibilities of Association Managers and Board Members
Fiduciary duty requires the exercise of “reasonable care” in performing functions for the association. Learn the principles of forming and managing a nonprofit, finance in the workplace, ethical responsibility and fostering fiscal integrity. 
Speaker: Kevin Testo, CPA, Principal, Bonadio Group, LLC

April 3 (9 AM–12 PM): Creating Community Through Membership
Knowing your membership is key to creating productive engagement and member loyalty. What does the research say about what today’s association members want? How can the research guide you in creating a community that members value? Learn how to leverage that research for greater member satisfaction. 
Speaker: Amanda Kaiser, Chief Path Finder, Kaiser Insights LLC

May 8 (9 AM–2:30 PM): Strategic Planning and Innovation
Conclude your leadership journey with an overview of the strategic planning process that includes innovation and embracing new technologies. Given the fundamental shifts the industry is experiencing, how do associations stay ahead of the curve over the traditional 3 to 5-year strategic plan? Explore membership analysis and benchmarking, as well as implementation of a strategic plan that reflects your association’s mission and ties together what you’ve learned in the Association Leadership Academy. 
Speaker: Mark Nelson, PhD, MBA, CAE, Executive Director, Systems Dynamic Society

May 28, 2020: Class of 2020 Graduation Ceremony


Academy deans are executive staff and presidents/CEOs of statewide, regional or national associations who represent professional achievement and accomplishment. Each educational forum will be moderated by an academy dean.

The deans of the 2019-20 ALA Level One series are:

Stephen Acquario, Esq., Executive Director, NYS Association of Counties
Brian Buff, Vice President, Association Management Operations, Capitol Hill Management Services, Inc.
Jeffrey Keller, CAE, Executive Director, NYS Rural Housing Coalition
Jennifer Martin, MBA, Executive Director, NY School Nutrition Association
Lindsay Miller, MPH, Executive Director, New York Association on Independent Living, Inc. 
Maura Ryan, Executive Director, New York Government Finance Officers Association 
Robert Schneider, CPA, CAE, Associate Executive Director, NYS School Boards Association
George Swain, Associate Director for Evaluation and Accreditation, NYS Association of Independent Schools


Enrollment in the Association Leadership Academy is a commitment to learning and professional development in the association management field. To be recognized as an ALA graduate, you must attend all eight sessions.

Participants who are unable to attend all eight sessions should contact the ESSAE office at (518) 463-1755 or [email protected] for information regarding makeup opportunities.


Participants will graduate at the ESSAE Annual Conference, where they receive a certificate of completion, graduation pin, and be listed on the Academy website by graduating class year.


A total of 36.5 CAE credit hours will be earned by attending all eight sessions of this Academy, which can be used toward your CAE exam registration or CAE recertification.


For ESSAE members, the cost of the full program is $750 (the equivalent of $93 per session) and includes eight courses, all program materials, and lunch during extended programs. Nonmembers may enroll for $1,500 for the full program and all materials. Non-members are encouraged to join ESSAE and receive the full benefit of membership in the organization plus the member program rate.

Need financial help? ESSAE has established a scholarship program to ensure the continued professional growth of colleagues who represent and are dedicated to our profession. Details can be found online:


ESSAE members not enrolled in the full program may audit a course for a $200 fee. One course may be audited per program cycle. Non-members may audit a course for $400.


Co-Chair: Rita Lashway, MBA, CAE (retired)
Co-Chair: Barbara Bradley, CAE (retired)
Vanessa LaClair, CAE, CMP, Executive Director, Empire State Society of Association Executives
Jeffrey Keller, CAE, Executive Director, NYS Rural Housing Coalition
Jeanine Santelli, PhD, RN, AGPCNP-BC, FAAN, Executive Director, ANA-NY

Board Liaisons: Georgi Ann Bailey, CAE, Executive Director, AIANYS and George Swain, Associate Director for Evaluation and Accreditation, NYS Association of Independent Schools

What do the graduates think? 

If you want to assess what you and your organization are doing right and identify the areas of opportunity for improvement, I would highly recommend ALA. - Cynthia Kimble, Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance

I highly recommend ALA to anyone who has a desire to spend their career in associations. The ALA exposes you to all of the topic areas that you need to know in order to lead a successful organization. Not only were the sessions informative, but they were interactive, which made learning easier and more fun! I enjoyed meeting all of my fellow ALA classmates, and their journey in the association world. The connections and lessons learned throughout the class left a positive, long-lasting impression on me and my future in associations. - Ashley Ranslow, NFIB

ALA is a comprehensive program that provides association professionals with much needed knowledge relating to all areas of association management. - Katie Bradley, NYS School Boards Association

When I first registered for ALA, I had the expectation that I would learn from a few professionals about how to improve in my job and my career. After finishing the course, I can say that was achieved along with much more that I didn't anticipate. I have gained confidence in myself, my knowledge and my skill set, increased motivation to continue to advance in my career and pursue my CAE, and a network of professionals to use as a resource. - Meagan Bowker, CAE, Capitol Hill Management Services

It was clear from the topic selection, the content and the high-quality presenters that ESSAE and the team that prepared the ALA curriculum REALLY put in the time to develop a top-notch program. The topics were relevant and timely. We received practical advice based on real-life situations. ALA challenged me to think about ways I can become a more effective manager and how I can develop my leadership skills. The deans that opened each session and introduced the presenters were outstanding. They are in the association "trenches" and spoke with authority. Ignore their advice/wisdom/guidance at your own peril! The presenters were fantastic - from within the Capital Region and of national renown. Invest in yourself, your association and your career, and participate in the ALA. You will learn and be challenged. - Mark Amodeo, The Business Council of NYS, Inc.