Challenges, experience, growth
Women organizing police conference rise to occasion
COUNTDOWN! A 100-day countdown! That’s right, it’s 100 days until the launch of the annual 10-day conference of the International Association of Women Police to be held in Winnipeg.
The conference is the culmination of four years of planning challenges and meeting after meeting after meeting. To celebrate this 100-day milestone, the conference committee held a volunteer pep rally at RCMP headquarters June 20.
The excitement among the planners is growing every day as they realize what an absolute accomplishment they’ve achieved. Imagine successfully convincing an international board to come to Canada and to Winnipeg. Imagine the number of people who’ve been involved. Imagine the number of specialized committees needed to carry out the conference planning, and imagine the leadership required to keep everyone co-ordinated, focused and motivated over a four year time frame.
The Winnipeg-based conference director, Sgt. Sandra Martin of the Winnipeg Police Service and board member of the International Association of Women Police, says attendees focus on the workshops and special events; however, from a learning and professional-development perspective, volunteers look at the conference as a oncein-a-lifetime opportunity to expand their skills in project management.
For this multi-faceted, 10-day conference, Martin began by creating an executive-planning committee consisting of representatives from the three partner police agencies: the Winnipeg Police Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Brandon Police Service. The committee subsequently expanded to include more than 100 volunteers from the Canadian Border Services Agency, Correctional Services of Canada and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.
The volunteers were assigned to subcommittees that focused their attention on marketing, the event, registration, fundraising, sponsorships, developing and scheduling training programs and speakers and seeking resources for accommodation. As well, the logistics committee focused on planning for the grand Parade of the Nations and the opening ceremony to be held in conjunction with the Manitoba Association of Chiefs of Police memorial service.
Just as with human-resource management, overseeing a workforce of 100 volunteers with diverse and complex tasks is no easy feat. So how do you keep 100 volunteers motivated and focused on a sequence of project-management tasks while ensuring everyone is in alignment with the overall conference theme and goals? Not only that, the International Association of Women Police sets certain conference parameters, including the date. Once a conference bid is accepted the conference date cannot be changed. In other words, the conference goes ahead no matter what.
As can be expected, volunteers are sometimes difficult to find and so special pep rallies were held over the four years to continue the excitement of the executive planning committee and to act as a recruitment activity to attract more volunteers. Another solution to building and enhancing volunteer motivation was to create specific project milestones and to celebrate them with some sort of special event.
When the conference planning began four years ago, the project seemed so far away. Yet, as of June 20, the 100day countdown has begun. The conference planners are eager and are brimming with pride. The members of the International Association of Women Police have booked their tickets. The hotels are waiting for their international guests and the tourist attendees are looking forward to visiting all the venues in our city as well as our new Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
While conference planning and coordination was extremely complex and time consuming, one of the greatest benefits for the conference director, the executive planning committee and the many committee members was the opportunity to go far beyond their basic classroom experiences to immerse themselves in the true complexities of large-scale project management. It was a chance to challenge themselves, build and test their skills and build interpersonal friendships that will last a lifetime. They will have also developed and enhanced their professional relationships and will bring those relationships home to their workplaces. Not only that, I am convinced each of the volunteer committee members has significantly enhanced their career opportunities.
One of the other complexities of a large volunteer workforce is managing the tasks that have been delegated to various committees. All committees were given full authority to build their own team, create a project charter and manage their own timelines within the scope of the main project charter. Some committees managed quite well, while others needed help. In normal workplace situations, a manager has formal authority to manage employees who are not keeping pace with project timelines.
However, the volunteer project committee chairs found it was much more challenging to manage their team members because the volunteers were made of representatives from the various police agencies over which they had no formal authority. For instance, volunteers can simply walk away from a project if they feel a lack of respect and/or feel their ideas or opinions have not been heard. Influence without authority is a very difficult challenge in any management role, and from Martin’s point of view, this was one of her greatest areas of professional growth throughout the entire project.
Actually, the entire conference-planning project was a giant skill-building experience. The hands-on, practical experience involved in such a complex project-planning process built numerous leadership skills that will help these women reach for higher-level job roles within their organization. For instance, several chairwomen were leading a committee for the first time. Others volunteered for roles that would develop skills such as financial management and project management which in turn would help them work toward their desired professional designations.
While the benefits to the conference volunteers and attendees are clearly evident, the city of Winnipeg and the province as a whole are also reaping huge rewards. Can you imagine 700 women from all corners of the world having 10 days to explore what Winnipeg has to offer? Business owners will be buzzing with excitement as they meet groups of police-women tourists who are arriving to stay at a variety of hotels, enjoy the diversity of our many restaurants and our unique clothing stores. Many conference delegates will also join in a hosted bus tour around the city. Others will be travelling to Churchill post-conference to see the polar bears and experience life in the north.
There are also benefits to the general public as they are invited to attend and watch the parade of nations on Sept. 28, the true 100-day marker for the planning committee. This date is also important because it takes place in conjunction with the Manitoba Association of Chiefs of Police memorial service. Finally, the public is welcome to attend the final banquet.