One of the most powerful and meaningful ways to learn about leadership is through volunteering. Modern leaders have self-confidence and work for a higher purpose. They embrace change and approach learning as a lifelong process. Volunteering is an extremely valuable chance to develop yourself and hone your leadership skills.
Volunteering is beneficial across multiple facets of your life, as it requires dedication and commitment, and results in expanding your skill set and network. As such, volunteering experiences are impactful well beyond the hours spent on-site volunteering and carry through to your day-to-day roles and responsibilities.
The Actuary asked four volunteers—Mark Alberts, FSA, MAAA; Tony Brantzeg, FSA, MAAA; Brian Pauley, FSA, MAAA; and Maureen Premdas, FSA, FCIA—to recount their volunteer experiences and share why they donate their personal time to the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and/or other organizations. They contend it expands their reach, fine-tunes their leadership skills and builds character. Read their stories—you’ll find the common thread is the desire to help and be of service to others.
Does volunteering make you a better leader?
Pauley: Yes, because leading a group of volunteers is much different than leading those who rely on you for a paycheck. Volunteers follow you because they want to, not because they must. Thus, you must be in a position of influence to be effective.
Premdas: Yes, 100 percent. You are a more rounded leader. Through volunteering, you observe and learn more about others’ experiences and leadership styles, and you can incorporate this knowledge into your professional career. Being an SOA volunteer, there are lots of opportunities for positive feedback. But you also learn to deal with difficult situations—for example, “crisis” (someone could not attend grading at the last minute) or underperformance (someone is not delivering high-quality materials and is always late)—without the tools you have at your disposal in your work environment. The experience is invaluable.
What motivates you to volunteer?
Alberts: Partly, it’s a simple sense of commitment. The SOA, for instance, is a member-driven organization that relies heavily on volunteers to get its work done. I feel a sense of responsibility to share that load. My volunteering choices are also based on my personal interests and priorities. I am interested in research and believe it is important to keep the actuarial profession moving forward, so I sought out volunteer opportunities related to research. Similarly, environmental issues are very important to me, and I am motivated to volunteer in areas and with organizations that address those issues.
Pauley: I started out as an SOA volunteer by grading a fellowship exam. I really enjoyed meeting and working with new people outside of my normal job. That is what motivated me in my earlier years of volunteering.
Volunteering has given me so much in return over the years that it is now what gives me the fuel to keep doing it. When people hear about how many things I’m involved with as a volunteer, they ask, “How do you have time for that?” My response is that I make time, because the return I get is great. I’ve won the SOA Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award twice, which is one of my most celebrated accomplishments!
Premdas: When I first started volunteering roughly 20(!) years ago, I signed up to work on an exam committee because I wanted to give back to the actuarial community and learn more about the exam process. I figured I would give question writing a try … I learned so much about the enormous efforts that go into constructing the exams and keeping the standards of our profession so high!
At this point I’ve volunteered for so long not because of the continuous learning, but rather to continue interacting with the people I have met along the way. Friends and mentors who have had a huge impact on my career and have selflessly shared their time and experiences with me—I am a better leader and professional because of my volunteer experiences with the SOA.
How has volunteering improved your leadership skills?
Alberts: For the last 10 years, I have been a solo actuarial consultant in my day job, so one benefit of volunteering is that it has provided an outlet to keep my leadership skills sharp. In addition, in a volunteer environment, many different people may fill leadership roles on different projects or initiatives—this provides the opportunity to observe and learn from various styles of leadership. Finally, they say the best way to learn is by doing, and the longer I have volunteered with an organization, the more I have been viewed as a leader and have been asked to fill leadership roles.
How does volunteering build character?
Premdas: Volunteering at the SOA has taught me a lot. I’ve learned how to look at things from many different perspectives—there is rarely one right answer! Through working closely with others, I have gained valuable insights into other areas of the profession. I’ve also worked on my negotiation skills—we are all busy, and volunteering requires a time commitment and passion for what we do. You learn to take “no” for an answer, but when you love what you are doing, it shows, and you work to share that positive experience with others.
Tell us about your volunteer experience overall.
Alberts: My primary volunteer work has been with actuarial organizations—the SOA and, to a lesser extent, the American Academy of Actuaries (the Academy). My SOA volunteer work has largely been related to actuarial research: research committees and task forces, research-related presentations and so on. My time commitment has been 100–200 hours per year over the last several years. As some of my SOA commitments are winding down, I’m finding the capacity to volunteer with more organizations in my community. I recently joined the board of a local social/fitness club and am beginning to volunteer with a local environmental organization.
VOLUNTEERING NEAR AND FAR
I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer locally, nationally and even internationally. As you might imagine, they are very different experiences.
Some of the benefits of volunteering locally include supporting nearby communities and fostering relationships with other volunteers. I’m fortunate to work for a company, Voya Financial, that …
Pauley: I’ve been involved with SOA education and exams (E&E) since I became an FSA in 2009. I started out as a grader and, ultimately, ended up serving five years as chairperson of an FSA exam. I’m excited about my next chapter as an E&E volunteer, as I’ll become general officer of the Group and Health Curriculum Committee in 2020. I’ve also been involved with section councils, most recently serving as chairperson of the Health Section. I’m also in my second year of a three-year term on the SOA Nominating Committee. My most recent endeavor has been chairing a special SOA initiative called “Initiative 18|11: What Can We Do About the Cost of Health Care?”
Has volunteering helped you move out of your comfort zone?
Premdas: I’m an introvert who is more comfortable in front of a computer screen than in a group setting, but I have not met a more welcoming group of people than the SOA staff and exam committee members. This group helped me feel comfortable in different roles, which in turn gave me more confidence and brought more success in my professional career. I think I could have been happy grading exams and writing questions for a few years and then leaving the committee. But, fortunately, I continually was given the opportunity to take on roles with more responsibility, which in turn helped me build up confidence. I am grateful.
How does your volunteering experience benefit your community or society in general?
Alberts: With some of my past volunteer work, it has been difficult to see a clear benefit for my community or society in general, which is leading me to shift my volunteer efforts toward more community-based organizations. Volunteering can be quite a balancing act, because there are many worthy organizations and only limited time. Giving the most to—and getting the most from—your volunteer work requires you to really think about what is important to you.