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 August 2005 Feature
Kevin Shanahan is a staff manager in ASTM International’s Technical Committee Operations division.

The Duties and Responsibilities of Subcommittee Chairs

In developing standards, a subcommittee chair is essential as a moderator of the subcommittee’s actions. Successful subchairs understand the administrative responsibilities of their role, ASTM’s open and transparent consensus process, how to delegate responsibilities to competent members of the subcommittee, and the goals of the industry or business sector they represent.

Good subcommittee chairs serve as leaders, communicators, administrators and organizers. In these various roles, subchairs build successful organizations within their main committees. It is not necessary for subchairs to be the foremost technical experts in their subcommittee; it is more important that they accomplish necessary tasks through their membership. In the way that conductors direct orchestras, so should subchairs direct the activities of their members.

There are six key duties of a subcommittee chair:

• Delegating responsibilities;
• Handling administrative responsibilities;
• Conducting effective and efficient meetings;
• Preparing items for subcommittee and main committee ballots;
• Resolving negative votes; and
• Utilizing available resources at ASTM Headquarters.

Delegating Responsibilities

Although the subchair is responsible for the timely completion of work, this does not mean he needs to do everything. The key to being a successful subchair in a volunteer organization is delegation. Successful delegation comes not just in assigning tasks, but assigning those tasks to the right people who will handle them efficiently. All good leaders know how to maximize the talents of their people and, for a subchair, this skill is critical.

The first step in delegation is the recruitment of a subcommittee vice chair and/or secretary. While main committees fill these leadership roles by election, subcommittee chairs should appoint these positions. When choosing officers, regular meeting attendance and commitment to participation are two important qualifications to consider.

The vice chair runs the meeting in the chair’s absence and assists in administrative responsibilities. The secretary records meeting minutes, submits those minutes for electronic posting to the committee Web site, collects task group reports, distributes attendance lists, and assumes the responsibilities of subchair in the absence of both the subchair and the vice chair.

In large subcommittees, both a vice chair and secretary are probably needed. In smaller subcommittees, only a secretary may be needed. Whatever the officer structure, it is extremely important to have someone in place to record the meeting minutes. If a subcommittee does not have a permanent secretary, ask a member or another subchair to serve in this role prior to the start of the meeting.

Another key to successful delegation is setting up task groups when a new idea is initiated. Task groups are the forum wherein the majority of standards development work is accomplished in ASTM. They might be established to create a new standard, to develop a precision and bias statement for a test method, to promote membership, or to determine a need for a symposium, to name a few examples.

Here are several recommendations to consider in establishing a successful task group:

• Clearly define the group’s mission;
• Ensure balance (non-producers/producers);
• Name four to six participants;
• Set realistic deadline dates;
• Work between meetings; and
• Designate a well-organized, focused task group chair.

In addition, remember that people do not have to be ASTM members to participate on a task group.

Handling Administrative Responsibilities

Subcommittee chairs must monitor several key administrative responsibilities. The subchair:

• Reports actions, new standards activity, and ballot results during the main committee meeting;
• Submits completed negative-vote resolution forms to ASTM Headquarters;
• Reviews documentation of new work item registration or ballot item submittal for accuracy;
• Creates and posts detailed agendas;
• Produces and submits minutes;
• Updates the subcommittee roster, assigning classification and voting status to new members;
• Maintains the roster of existing members, paying particular attention to voting balance; and
• Represents the subcommittee on the executive subcommittee.

Conducting a Meeting

In preparing for a meeting, the first step is to organize an agenda. An agenda is necessary to allow both the chair and attendees to prepare for meeting activities. An agenda also clearly defines objectives and provides a valuable organizational tool for the meeting. An information-packed agenda can attract members and can also be the difference in gaining their employer’s approval to attend.

As for conducting an efficient meeting, always start on time. Remember to have enough copies of the agenda and supporting documents available for all attendees. At the beginning of the meeting, review the agenda to make sure that it is accurate and complete.

During the meeting, follow the parliamentary procedures outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order as well as in ASTM regulations. When necessary, a member should formally make a motion, and have the motion seconded. The chair then calls for discussion on the motion and finally a vote. By calling for discussion and following Robert’s Rules, all members have an opportunity to speak and there is a logical order to business.

During meetings, the chair should remain neutral and maintain order. If a chair needs to become directly involved in a contentious issue, control of the meeting should be delegated to the vice chair or another member. This is the best way to run an effective meeting without unnecessary influence.

When closing the meeting, state the conclusions reached and summarize the assignments, paying specific attention to deadlines. Prepare and distribute minutes as soon as possible after the meeting; this will ensure that action items stay fresh in members’ minds. Also, prepare a list of subcommittee and main committee ballot items, making note of the technical contacts for each.

Preparing Items for Ballot

Each subcommittee should have a procedure in place for work item registration and the submission of ballot items. This will eliminate unnecessary confusion.

The first step in preparing ballot items is to register a work item. The technical contact or the subcommittee chair can register the work item, but it is necessary for them to communicate to eliminate confusion.

If a work item is registered for a revision to an existing standard, a Microsoft Word version of the standard will be e-mailed to the technical contact. When editing the document, use the MS Word Track Changes function to record all text changes; also remember to submit only those sections being revised. (See the article on preparing ballot items for submission and publication.) The entire standard does not need to be re-balloted when a revision is occurring. Cover letters should accompany both a revision to an existing standard and a new draft standard, when submitted as ballot items. Once the ballot item is complete, the subcommittee chair should review it before its submittal to ASTM. If the item is submitted electronically, the subcommittee chair will receive an e-mail notification.

There are three types of ballot items in ASTM.

• Subcommittee ballot item (reviewed only by members of the subcommittee);
• Concurrent ballot item (reviewed by members of both the subcommittee and main committee); and
• Main committee ballot item (reviewed by the main committee).

The subcommittee ballot item can consist of a new standard, a major revision or a withdrawal of an existing standard. There are two ways a subcommittee ballot can be issued — by the subchair or by a motion at a subcommittee meeting. An item that successfully passes through subcommittee ballot becomes a main committee ballot item.

The concurrent ballot item, on the other hand, is for 1) a minor revision or 2) a new standard or major revision that has undergone at least one subcommittee ballot. A concurrent ballot item is requested by the subcommittee chair and approved by the main committee chair. The subcommittee chair is responsible for resolving negative votes on all three ballot types, with the assistance of the staff manager.

Resolving Negative Votes

Subcommittee chairs must also resolve negative votes. There are three steps to properly handling a negative vote: communicate with the negative voter, consider the comment and document the process. For more on this, see the article on handling negative votes in this issue.

Utilizing Available Resources at ASTM International

Finally, given all the responsibilities of the job, ASTM has two resources in place to assist the subchair: the ASTM Web site and the staff manager. The Web site has a lot of valuable information including all committee ballot, roster and meetings information. In addition, all ASTM technical committees are assigned an ASTM liaison — a staff manager who is in place to assist committee officers and members with standards development strategy and administrative duties. The primary responsibility of the entire ASTM staff is to help the committees work well and aid in the development of technical documents. Assisting the subchair in understanding the duties of his role is a critical piece of this goal. These resources are out there for subchairs and all ASTM members — don’t hesitate to utilize them. //

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