ASTM and Skill Development

Members Weigh in on Skills Honed with ASTM Participation

He had a new job, a new role and new responsibilities. But first he had to attend an ASTM meeting. And it took a while, but John Stieha came to value that unexpected and unlooked for opportunity — one that has been of great benefit professionally.

“It turned out that D20 was probably the best training I could have,” says Stieha, a D20 on Plastics member who joined ASTM in 2005 and is a technology and innovation product specialist leader at Celanese in Florence, Ky.

John Scott McCartney, Ph.D., P.E., associate professor of geotechnical engineering and geomechanics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a member of Committee D18 on Soil and Rock, agrees about the value of ASTM work. “I have found that ASTM provides a wealth of opportunities for professional development,” he says. From creating and reviewing standards, presenting at workshops or symposia, and publishing in ASTM technical journals, to participating in interlaboratory studies, opportunities exist to be active, and develop skills, in many ways.

To aid members in making the most of their ASTM International participation, ASTM offers resources online for all ASTM International members. Check “Your Leadership Connection” at www.astm.org/leadership, to link to collected information about taking advantage of ASTM participation and leadership. Also, link to the “Virtual Classroom for Members” and its ongoing array of sessions.

There’s expertise to be gained by immersion in technical discussions and standards development. Through learning D20 methods, and talking with others in the industry, Stieha says, “My knowledge base and understanding dramatically increased.” The payoff has been the ability to use that expertise to better help his customers.

Steve Sandstrum, director of technical services for ISCO Industries in Louisville, Ky., and a new member of the ASTM International board of directors, puts it this way: “Participation requires that you know your product capabilities inside and out,” he says. “Participation forces you into a position where you should think as a technical or critical expert on your product or service. This is an invaluable resource to any organization in today’s dynamic marketplace.” That can only be good professionally for you, your customers and your company.

In Stieha’s case, he has gained in-depth information about plastics test methods and materials classification systems, an understanding that he applies with his customers to respond to questions and to connect their needs with particular polymers, with performance and test parameters. For McCartney, the information exchange can also identify practical engineering issues that may lead to research ideas that could have a useful outcome and implementation in engineering practice.

Participation in ASTM technical committees also takes you out of your usual company hierarchy, which may mean out of your comfort zone as well, adds Stieha; it will give you opportunities for growth in other ways as well. Communications is one of those ways.

You can build your communications skills as you participate in the consensus process and contribute to how a standard is written, McCartney says. Developing a test method or other standard requires the ability to express ideas clearly both verbally and in written form, the ability to listen and understand others’ points of view, the ability to adapt, and for task group, subcommittee and committee leaders, the ability to motivate others and to respect and work through differences of opinion and what that means for the text of a standard.

“Involvement at ASTM helps educate each of us in how to address differences of opinion in a professional and responsible manner to the overall satisfaction of all parties involved while still working toward the advancement of an industry or technology or, for that matter, society at large,” is how Sandstrum puts it.

Sandstrum notes another skill that can be developed with ASTM participation — organization. Participating in standards development calls for organized thinking through how to best represent your company’s interests in a particular area, how to respond to issues or questions, and motivating and leading volunteers. A task group leader or committee officer sharpens skills through setting up meetings, developing agendas and forwarding action items as well as following up on action items, and guiding the group, along with the help of Robert’s Rules of Order, in working through conflicts and dissension.

There’s much more to be gained professionally through your ASTM participation and leadership (without even touching on enduring partnerships and friendships made at the ASTM table); the skills remarked on here are just a few highlights.

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This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.