The Role of the Interim CEO

A 2020-2021 research study to the use, practices, and qualities of an effective interim CEO—and how this executive transition tactic impacts the board, staff, and the subsequent CEO.


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: 

  1. Why have associations hired interim CEOs, and what advantages did they experience? 
  2. What qualities and qualifications are typical or preferred (and should the board seek)? 
  3. Under what circumstances are interims used, and what processes or conditions help them succeed? 
  4. Once in the role, what do interim CEOs focus on, and what drives that focus?  
  5. 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 

  1. All 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.  
  2. The role the interim needs to play must be clearly defined by the board and communicated to the interim CEO.  
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.  
  5. The key to effectively navigating a transition—for interims, boards, staff, and subsequent CEOs alike—is strong communication and understanding.  



Research Report

The Role of the Interim CEO: Key Insights of Association Executive Transitions 

Drawing on the included case studies from diverse associations in a variety of transition situations, this report identifies common factors for success—for both the interim CEO and the organization. The findings will help interim executives, board members, and other stakeholders define expectations and prepare for a period of change. 

Research Briefs  

Effective Interim Transitions: Key Takeaways  

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. 


Executive Research Perspective 

Make a Place for an Interim CEO in Your Succession Plan (October 2022, Hannes Combest, FASAE, CAE) 

Additional Research 



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