Not too long ago, the role of the meeting professional generally was more tactical than strategic. Planners focused mainly on logistics, didn’t have much influence on the larger picture, and usually came into the process after most of the important decisions had been made. While that may still be true in some places, many planners are finding themselves getting involved earlier in the process, being held accountable for results of their work, and ensuring that their meetings support their organizations’ objectives. In other words, the planner role has morphed from worker bee to leader, and planners are honing their leadership skills accordingly.

Which would explain why a session called “Leadership in the Changing World of Meeting Professionals,” led by Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, of Concepts Worldwide, packed them in at the New England Meetings Industry Conference and Expo held in Boston earlier this month. To bring the point home about just how much the world of planning has changed, Breining asked people to name a few of the changes they were going through. The answers ranged widely, from working with procurement, the rise of social networking, and the trend toward customization and the individualization of customer support and marketing, to measuring attendee return on investment, and travel issues.

“When we see how the world has changed, we can choose to hide in a corner, or we can take the opportunity to lead that change,” said Breining. “We can be victimized by what’s going on, or we can say that’s what’s true now, how can I work with that?”

According to author and leadership expert Marcus Buckingham, one thing that’s vital to leadership, said Breining, is clarity. There are four areas leaders must ensure all followers are clear about: who they serve, what their core strength is, how that core strength is measured, and what actions need to be taken. “This means you have to set goals with measurable outcomes and do the follow-up,” she said.

Management also is an important skill for meeting planners today, she added. Citing Buckingham again, Breining said that great managers discover what is unique about each individual they manage and capitalize on it. Just as there are four areas where leaders must provide clarity, there are four characteristics managers must identify and work with in those they manage: strengths, weaknesses, triggers, and learning styles. The key to managing well is to match the talent and passion of an individual with the work that needs to be done. And if someone is outgrowing their job, a good manager will take inventory of the work to be done and the passions and talents of the individual, then either provide new challenges or help the person leave. “Sometimes, that’s the best thing you can do to help someone move their career forward,” she said.