How Event Planners Can Take on Strategic Leadership Roles

The events industry is bigger than ever, so you might be thinking about advancing your career by taking on more leadership roles. If this describes you, you aren’t alone. Many event planners are seeking ways to get out of the day-to-day work and lead their own event planning teams.

In this article, we’d like to offer some advice to help you make the transition from follower to leader. These key tips will teach you how to take control and advance your own career.

Free download: 8 Skills Every Event Planner Needs to Advance His or Her Career

Deliver Superb Results

Our first piece of advice is the most obvious, but it’s also the most important. If you want to be a leader and you want to play a role on the strategic side of your events, you will need to deliver a superior performance at all times. This is the only way you’ll be trusted with more responsibility and bigger budgets.

How do you deliver superb results? Make sure each of your events meet these requirements:

  • The event meets the client’s exact expectations.
  • The client doesn’t need to take part in the event planning/hosting process any more than they want to.
  • You have backup plans in place to cover for your critical functions, like catering, music, staffing, etc.
  • The event meets the client’s primary goal, whether that goal is “push our products” or simply “have a good time.” (More on this in a moment.)
  • There aren’t any incidents or mistakes that would embarrass the client.
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Focus on the Event’s Goals

The best events fulfill specific purposes that further a business’ or community’s goals. A networking event brings people together. A teacher development conference educates teachers. An industry trade show introduces new products to the market. You get the idea.

As a strategic leader, you can create a positive experience by helping your client (or your employer) meet their goal through careful event planning. This will make your clients realize that you aren’t just a party planner – you’re an experience designer and an important part of their business.

How do you help them achieve their goals? Start by asking your clients piercing questions about why they want to hold the event. Don’t settle for surface answers. Drill deep and contact the people who have the best information.

For example, let’s say your client wants to host a conference for app developers. Their goal is to promote their new app development toolkit. You could help them meet their goals by collecting useful information during registration, creating games or mini-events to use their product, or scheduling talks that address the problem the product solves.

Learn to Communicate Your Needs

A critical part of leading a team toward a common goal is communicating what you need from them. It’s your job to translate the ideas in your head into something they understand. This is the only way they will be able to execute what you imagine.

For instance, rather than listing exactly what you need your team to buy for an event, it’s better to explain what you’re trying to achieve. Use careful language to describe the decor, the lighting, and menu. You might say, “I want intimate lighting, formal tableware, and a posh, refined menu.”

Once you communicate your needs, let your team worry about the details. Make yourself available to answer their questions, of course, but your team should be able to fulfill your requests if you explain your plan properly.

Build and Foster a Team

Strategic leadership roles

Every leader needs a strong, committed team behind them. Whether you work for yourself or have an employer, you need a team in place to execute your plans so you can focus on the bigger picture.

However, building a great team doesn’t just mean hiring bodies and giving them tasks. The best teams can function without direct management. You need people who are committed to their careers as event planners.

Hire people who…

  • Understand and respect your workflow, or will make positive recommendations to improve it. Their job is to move the process along, not create confusion.
  • Compensate for your weaknesses. Do you struggle with choosing music for young people? Are you unfamiliar with ethnic cuisines? Find people who bring balanced talents to the team.
  • Fit into your style. If you specialize in corporate retreats, you need people with corporate backgrounds. If you host Silicon Valley networking events, you need people who understand startup culture.
  • Know that the last days before events are critical. They won’t disappear when things get tense and you need all hands on deck.
  • Are willing to share their ideas and creativity. They should be part of the planning process. But they must also know when to buckle down and follow your plan.

Furthermore, it’s absolutely imperative that you foster teamwork. Don’t tolerate individualism and politics. Make it clear that you expect everyone to pitch in to throw fantastic events.

Give your team autonomy. Create opportunities for them to make their own decisions. Don’t punish them for making poor decisions. Instead, show them how to make better ones. Your goal is to eventually give them broad direction (like “Take this $5,000 and find live Carribean ambiance music”) and let them handle it.

Finally, look for ways to invest in your team. Give them more tools, resources, and experience so they can work and make decisions in your absence. Making your team stronger, wiser, and more resourceful will create time in your day (and space in your head) so you can focus on the strategic side of your events.

Innovate Wherever You Can

Leaders don’t just follow plans or repeat the same processes over and over. They don’t just accept how things have been done in the past. Instead, they look for ways to be different. They look for ways to innovate and create unique experiences.

This means you’ll have to become comfortable solving problems of your own making. Want to add an app-based scavenger hunt to your event? Host in a hard-to-reach location? Deliver food via drones? Those could be great ideas that create memorable experiences, but they require careful planning and you won’t get much advice from other event planners.

Of course, this means you’ll have to evolve. You’ll have to adopt new tools, learn new techniques, and change with your industry.

Find Quality Mentors

Strategic leadership roles

A mentor is someone with extensive experience who will talk you through your problems, offer advice, and point you in the right direction of tools and resources. They won’t do the work for you, but they’ll happily take your calls and share their thoughts.

If you want to be a strong leader, you’ll need some mentors to call when things get tough. You’ll need someone to talk you through challenging tasks like dealing with a difficult client, juggling money, and terminating employees.

Ideally, your mentors should all have experience in the events industry. Look for people who managed teams, coordinated multiple events at once, and worked for demanding clients/employers.

Ask for a Leadership Role

Our final piece of advice is straightforward, but a lot of people fail to bother. Most people wait for others to notice them. We all want to be chosen, but if you want more in life, you have to ask for it. The best way to get a leadership role is to request it from whomever has the authority.

Let’s say you work on a team where your job is to decorate venues and create the ambiance outlined in the event brief. But you aren’t satisfied with that. You want to plan the whole event.

The simplest and most effective way to expand your role is to ask whomever oversees the whole planning process and ask for more responsibility. Ask to play a key role in the planning process of the next small event. Choose something easy that you’ll do well to make your team leader comfortable with the idea of letting you handle events on your own.

Ready to level up your event planning career? Make sure you have these critical skills.

Going Forward

Growing your career isn’t easy but it’s worth the effort. If you want to push out of your current role and take on leadership roles, use this advice to take charge and make a name for yourself.

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