Interview with Cassandra Spencer


Cassandra Spencer

Case Study

Name: Cassandra Spencer
Position: CEO
Company: Institute of Foresters Australia
Qualifications: Advanced Diploma in Business Management.
Age: 37

What does your job involve?
My role is typical of that of a CEO for a small representative organisation. It combines a wide range of strategic, managerial and administrative tasks.
As a member services organisation, I am also responsible for delivering value to our members. This involves looking at ways we can provide them with resources, such as research material, news and industry information, help them prepare submissions and papers and make this information readily available through our website and newsletters. We also look to facilitate professional development and networking opportunities wherever we can.
Corporate governance is a really important part of what I do. As CEO, I also act as Company Secretary and as Secretary for Board Committees. Part of that role is ensuring that the Directors practise responsibly and ethically and that the proper processes are followed and that documentation and records are up to date.
My job involves supporting the Board to help them deliver services to their respective jurisdictions. My job also involves doing whatever has to be done. We are a small office, so at times we have to turn our hands to everything!

What’s a typical working day for you?
Most of my time is spent in the office, either in front of my computer or talking to people. Our members are spread across Australia and so we operate a virtual office, we communicate via on-line forums, email, Skype and phone. Using latest technologies is important in maintaining communications especially when members are in regional areas.
You could sum up what I do as either dealing with people, sorting out problems and managing the day to day administrative tasks of the Institute’s projects and initiatives.

How important are people skills in your job?
Very. We only have a couple of employees – but we have 1200 volunteers! They are our members, who as well as receiving services from us, contribute to the running of our organisation. As you might imagine, diplomatic skills are very important dealing with that many people, especially when they are giving their time and energy.

Have you done training while you’ve been here?
Yes. I started working for the Institute of Foresters some 7 years ago as the Member Services Manager and professional development has been part of my career. I’ve done a variety of short courses, seminars and workshops and now I am completing an Advanced Diploma in Business Management though the Australian Institute of Management (AIM). This has been supported by my employers who have a very healthy perspective of professional development for their staff. I have also found that in the industry in general, there is a lot of positive emphasis on the long-term advantages of up-skilling existing staff.

What’s the best thing about what you do?
The best thing about my job is the variety. I can come to work thinking about the day ahead and then find it even busier and more varied that I’d imagined. There are always things that crop up. One minute I could be talking finance and balance sheets with our accountants, the next job might be to work on a press release or the cover of a publication.
The best thing of all though, is working with a great bunch of people! The environment that the Institute fosters is one of support and mentoring. This is experienced from the Board of Directors right through to the Committees and members. I do feel blessed at being nurtured in this environment as it has given me opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and experience new challenges. All employers should strive to create an environment like this because a happy employee is a productive employee!

What sort of person do you think would be interested in your job?
Someone who is interested in a job like this should be a good ‘people person’ with attention to detail and the flexibility to turn their hand to a wide range of tasks – to wear a lot of hats, you could say.
There is a lot of background knowledge about things like corporate governance and organisational finance that is important too.
If you’re not comfortable juggling a lot of issues at once, then I don’t think this job is for you.

Do you see opportunities for women in forestry?
When I first came into forestry, and I am not a forester myself, I was quite amazed to find that even though it’s traditionally a male dominated industry, there are few barriers for women. In some seven years I’ve seen women have the same opportunities as men, across a wide range of roles.” she said, “probably the biggest drawback is that some jobs require a lot of travel and can be quite remote however now that the old perception that it’s a males job is fading away, more young females will see the benefits that a career in forestry offers.

Do you feel that what you do makes a difference?
I’ve become familiar with this organisation and have developed a real respect for our members and what they do. Most people don’t understand that foresters are scientists who are very in touch with the environment. They are such down to earth people, and what they do, forestry, can contribute so much to a sustainable future. Anything that helps that happen has to make a difference!

Please note: We spoke to Cassandra about her career and what she does day to day. We hope you find this useful and interesting – but please remember, that all jobs are not exactly the same and other roles with the same title may be different in many respects. You should confirm all the details of a particular job with the organisation offering it.