Whether they are called board administrators, registrars, executive directors, executive secretaries, or something else, the individuals who lead the work behind the scenes to keep everything moving smoothly deserve recognition for their role in the regulation of social work. A board’s volunteer membership can change frequently: Members may be appointed for only one term or longer if the appointment is renewed for many years. The role of administrator, on the other hand, is a career opportunity. Administrators therefore provide the continuity, the expertise, and often, the institutional memory that allow board members to focus on decision making and leadership to effectively carry out the board’s mission.
A broad range of work
While every board is different, the role of administrator typically covers a broad spectrum of activities. Tasks range from ensuring that application and renewal processing is handled to reaching out to educate students and the public about licensing and regulation. Administrators communicate with volunteer board members, serving as a source of expertise about board processes and relevant laws. And they often network and collaborate with peers through organizations like ASWB. In Canada, regulatory colleges may have an integrated mandate; administrators may be charged with supporting the profession in addition to protecting the public.
Our member board administrators really want their boards to be successful and to meet their mandates of public protection. They are committed to the work.
This behind-the-scenes work is challenging and time consuming. To board members, the processes that allow them to do their work may appear seamless thanks to the expertise of administrators. “From the point of view of the board room,” says Mark Hillenbrand, who served on and chaired Iowa’s board and now serves as registrar and CEO of the British Columbia College of Social Workers, “you see renewals of 5,000 registrants on a report about fee incomes. On the administrative side, you see the many technological systems that can go awry. When glitches happen, it can cause a significant issue for people who need licenses to work. Staff have to navigate those challenges quickly.”
In addition, administrators often manage contacts with other parts of government bureaucracy. When legislative involvement is needed, they may work with the relevant lawmakers. They might also need to involve prosecutors to carry out sanctions. “Depending on a board’s structure,” says Jennifer Henkel, ASWB senior director of member engagement and regulatory services, “administrators may have competing pressures, including administrative, regulatory, and political.”
When change happens
The extraordinary challenges of 2020 came atop the routine adjustments that happen every year, including administrator retirements and other personnel changes (see box). Because serving as a board administrator often caps an individual’s career path, these individuals may work for many years and retire from the position.
Whether a transition is caused by a retirement or another type of departure, the importance of the administrator’s role as a keeper of information is highlighted during times of change. “When administrator transitions are unexpected, the board may be faced with increased responsibilities and unforeseen challenges,” says Henkel. “Planned transitions are better for the board and the consumers being served.”
The Mississippi State Board of Examiners for Social Workers and Marriage & Family Therapists is experiencing just such a difficult time after the death of its executive director, Billy Dilworth. Spencer Blalock, who worked closely with Dilworth, lost a colleague he valued both personally and professionally. “The passing of Billy has been a huge blow to the institutional knowledge of the organization in the midst of huge changes in the regulatory world,” Blalock says.
Work that matters
Just like the social workers and public members who volunteer on regulatory boards, administrators are typically fueled by a sense of mission. They take their work seriously because doing it well makes a difference. “Our member board administrators really want their boards to be successful and to meet their mandate of public protection,” Henkel says. “They are committed to the work.”