The Role of the Interim CEO

Key Insights from the Executive-Transition Experiences of 15 Associations


Defining Effective Practices

Research Report (Anticipated release Spring 2022)
The Role of the Interim CEO: Key Insights from the Executive-Transition Experiences of 15 Associations

Research Objectives

Every association eventually experiences a leadership change, and experience is a good teacher. With that in mind, ASAE Research Foundation—in partnership with Vetted Solutions and the Ancora Group, and guided by a volunteer taskforce of association community members—set out to answer these questions:

  • Why have associations hired interim CEOs, and what advantages did they experience?
  • What qualities and qualifications are typical or preferred (and should the board seek)?
  • Under what circumstances are interims used, and what processes or conditions help them succeed?
  • Once in the role, what do interim CEOs focus on, and what drives that focus?
  • What effective practices can be identified, and what pitfalls can be avoided?


Following a series of focus groups, 15 case examples were studied to offer insights for four key stakeholder groups: boards of directors weighing the pros and cons of interim leadership, interim executives seeking practical lessons, successor CEOs looking to start on the right foot, and staff navigating the impacts of leadership transition.

Note: ASAE is included as a research participant and represents one case study presented in this report.

Key Takeaways

  • All 15 board members interviewed for the case studies said that the use of the interim was the right decision for their organization, even when the transition didn’t go as expected.
  • The role the interim needs to play must be clearly defined by the board and communicated to the interim CEO.
  • An interim CEO will benefit from attention to organizational culture. A “listening tour” is a useful first step to understanding what works and what doesn’t within the association.
  • The transition will be challenging, even difficult, but staff should keep an open mind throughout the process. Organizational change may create opportunities for staff to shine.
  • The key to effectively navigating a transition—for interims, boards, staff, and subsequent CEOs alike—is strong communication and understanding.

Additional Resources

Effective Interim Transitions: Key Takeaways (2020)

Four research briefs with key takeaways and lessons for interim CEOs, boards of directors, staff, and subsequent CEOs. Share them with organizational staff, volunteer leaders, and other key stakeholders to help your executive transition period go smoothly.

Project Partners and External Project Team Members

Author and Research Collaborator
David Kranz, President, Association Research Consulting

Research Partners
Vetted Solutions
James Zaniello, FASAE, President and Founder
Catherine Brown, FASAE, CAE, Vice President, West Coast

Ancora Group, LLC
Robert Moran, President and CEO

Project Advisory Group
Monika Schulz, CAE (advisory group chair), Chief Executive Officer, National Society of Professional Engineers
Hannes Combest, FASAE, CAE, Governance Directions
Frank Krause, MBA, CAE, Executive Director and CEO, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
Wendy-Jo Toyama, MBA, FASAE, CAE, Association Management Center/CEO, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine