SFMA CEO Laura Simmons, CAE
SFMA CEO Laura Simmons, CAE

Introducing SFMA CEO Laura Simmons, CAE

On December 1, 2022, the Sports Field Management Association (SFMA) welcomed its new CEO Laura Simmons, CAE.

In a letter to members, SFMA President James Bergdoll, CSFM, CPRP, stated “We received hundreds of applicants and conducted numerous interviews with some very impressive individuals. After all was said and done, one candidate stood out among the crowd.”

Bergdoll added, “Laura has a proven track record of association leadership, including developing innovative programs, growing membership, managing finances/budgets and implementing strategic plans.”

Most recently, Simmons served as deputy director for the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, and has more than two decades of experience serving associations and working in the world of property management. Simmons received her MBA from Webster University and a BA from the University of Kansas, and has been recognized as a Certified Association Executive (CAE) from the American Society of Association Executives.

“In addition to Laura’s impressive background, in her first interview she brought boundless positive energy and showed great interest in tackling SFMA’s challenges and championing our members,” Bergdoll stated. “In short, she blew the selection committee away. Laura brings poise and professionalism to the role, and is absolutely an outside-the-box thinker who will provide a fresh perspective to the association.

“Laura will be responsible for enhancing SFMA’s role and profile as a member advocate and positioning the association as the leader in the field for the years ahead,” he added. “The board of directors has every confidence she will succeed.”

SportsField Management magazine recently asked Simmons about taking on the role of SFMA CEO, and her vision for the association.

SportsField Management (SFM): Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Laura Simmons, CAE: I got into the association management business by accident. When I graduated from college, we were in a bit of an economic downturn; so, getting a job was not easy. I was working in retail, and through a friend of a friend, I found out about an office manager position. I took that, and it was with an association – and I fell in love with it. It was a small staff – similar to SFMA – and we all wore multiple hats. It was a great opportunity for me to get exposed to all areas of association management – not just one niche area. I loved working with members and helping them to better their profession and their industry. Over the years I have worked with a variety of different associations and membership organizations, learned all the best practices, and was able to hone my leadership skills. I have become more of a collaborative person – I like to brainstorm and bounce ideas off people. I am a firm believer that if I have a good idea and you have something to add to it, then it becomes a great idea – and much better than anything I could come up with on my own. I really appreciate diversity of thought and ideas and being able to formulate those things into action plans and goals for the future. My philosophy comes from working with – and for – the members, making sure I am doing what I can to help them achieve their goals.

SFM: In the official announcement to SFMA members, it was mentioned that in your previous roles you have developed innovative programs, grown membership, managed finances and budgets, and implemented strategic plans. Looking at all of that, what would you say are the biggest strengths you bring to SFMA?

Simmons: It would be that diverse experience. I only have a 30,000-foot view of the organization so far, and I have a lot of learning to do. But the fact that I have that varied experience from working with other associations, and the ability to wear many hats, gives me that ability to take in the full context of everything that is going on within the organization. Before making any decisions or making any moves, I am good at looking at every aspect – from financial to strategic to public relations. I am able to look at the entire realm of the organization and the impacts that decisions could have. So, my biggest strength is making fully informed decisions.

SFM: Would you say the most important attribute for any association executive is that type of flexibility and diversity?

Simmons: Yes, flexibility, diversity of thought, and collaboration — being able to listen to the members. I know every member is probably going to have a different answer if I asked, “What is your number-one need?” Being able listen; recognizing individual traits of people; and honoring those differences among individuals, their industries and their roles really is key to being successful in association management – regardless of your role.

SFM: What attracted you to the SFMA CEO position?

Simmons: Honestly, the dedication to the members. When I first found out about the position, I took a deep dive into the website and the magazine. It was the commitment to the values and the profession itself. Being able to build on the education and knowledge and invest back into the industry really spoke to me. And the focus on safety was a key factor. The organization clearly has a strong foundation, and I felt there are a lot of possibilities and opportunities for me to build upon that. It’s a strong organization, and I am excited to be a part of it.

SFM: What was the interview process like for you, and what did you learn about SFMA and its members throughout that process?

Simmons: Really, it was the exclamation point for me on wanting the position. The job description caught my attention, and I did my research before I even applied. But it was meeting the people on the search committee – current leaders, past leaders, and some who have not yet become SFMA leaders – and hearing their passion and excitement. Even when they had concerns, it was never negative; it was “What can we do better?” and “How can we grow?” It was great to be able to just have a conversation and connect. I was able to do that by Zoom, but once we met in person, I was like, “Yes, these are my people. I am ready to go.” It was really the final “yes” for me.

SFM: You spoke about the diversity of tasks you have to manage in this role. What are the keys to prioritizing all the things that need to be done as CEO?

Simmons: The key for me is that I still have a lot to learn, so I have to get in and get started immediately. But I am already working on some transitional tasks and setting priorities. I will start getting up to speed on where the staff is with projects and what I can do to support them. With conference coming up, I know they are super busy. So, I need to support them at this point, and then once we are past conference I need to do a deeper dive into who is doing what, and do our own internal SWOT analysis to determine what is working in our operation and what is not. How can we better support our members? How can we better support the foundation? There is a wealth of knowledge on this team, and I want to make sure they have the opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions about the future of the organization.

SFM: What are you most excited about in the new role?

Simmons: Meeting the members. That is one of my top priorities. The timing is perfect with the conference coming up, as I will get to meet a lot of them. But the other thing I really want to do is reach out and do tours of some fields and facilities to get myself more ingrained. I am planning to take the Sports Field Management 101 course we offer, but doing that versus seeing a team in action is much different. I want to get out and see members and make sure I have a comfortable understanding of the industry. I need to have a full understanding to help me do the best I can when developing new programs and building respect for the profession.

SFM: What are your initial goals or vision for SFMA?

Simmons: To step back into the strategic plan. I know it was developed it in 2021, and with the former CEO’s departure, some of it got put on hold. So, to step back into that with James [Bergdoll], Sun [Roesslein] and the rest of the board to get that process going again, reevaluate it, and determine next steps and make sure we are in a good place to attain those goals. That is my top priority.

SFM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself outside of work?

Simmons: I have been married for 30 years, we have two adult children and two dogs. We live in a small town south of Kansas City. It is a great little community, and it is a nice break away from the city. We love the outdoors, and we have a little bit of land. We enjoy gardening and canning; I make a great salsa. I am an avid reader, and love to immerse myself in a good book.

SFM: Is there anything you would like to add?

Simmons: I am really excited to get to know the members, and to dive in and work with this great team that we have. I look forward to doing the best we can to implement the strategic plan and really build upon the great foundation that is already in place. I am very excited to get started.