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SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018

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Cream of the Crop 

By Sean Person and Julie Warren
©2018 Community Associations Institute​​​

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It’s challenging to earn a PCAM designation, but it’s worth the effort.

Thanks to a handful of motivated community managers who recently took and received passing grades on a comprehensive evaluation of a Chicago high-rise community, CAI just reached a significant benchmark: More than 3,000 community association managers have earned the prestigious Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM) designation to date.

“For more than 35 years, managers who have earned the PCAM designation are regarded as the best and brightest around the world in the community association industry,” says Thomas M. Skiba, CAE, CAI’s Chief Executive Officer. “By earning a PCAM designation, these managers have demonstrated they have the knowledge, ethics, professionalism, and skills to successfully lead in today’s fast-growing community association housing model.”

Each PCAM designation is numbered, and Kimberly Sutherland, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, has the distinction of receiving number 3,000. “Earning this designation reaffirms my enthusiasm for what I do every day for my client communities,” says Sutherland, who is Director of community management at RealManage, AAMC, in Chicago.

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Demanding but Doable

Achieving the PCAM credential demands commitment to the profession, including five years’ experience as a manager and many hours of study and documented volunteer activity in the community management profession. But as more than 3,000 CAI managers can attest, it’s not impossible to pack all that endeavor into an already busy schedule.

Gail Windisch, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, senior director of operations for Tidewater Property Management, AAMC, in Maryland, will tell anyone who is considering going for a PCAM, “It’s worth getting, and it’s worth having.” Managers who have a PCAM designation can earn an average of $30,000 more per year than colleagues who don’t have it, according to the Community Association Manager Compensation and Salary Survey 2017​.

“Just have fun with it, and don’t stress,” Windisch says of the process. One of the 87 PCAM designees inducted at the 2018 CAI Annual Conference and Exposition in May, she adds, “Be confident and believe in yourself. You are going to succeed; you *are* going to do it.”

The Capstone

Once they have met various other criteria, PCAM candidates must participate in a two-day Case Study, which includes a tour and review of a host community’s infrastructure and processes. Several Case Studies are offered each year throughout the U.S. Only one Case Study has been held outside the U.S. so far—in Dubai in 2016—but others may be scheduled internationally in the near future.
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Patricia Martin, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, is flanked here by Gregory Smith, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, CAI’s immediate past president (left), and John Hammersmith, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, CAI’s 2018 president. Martin, who was the facilitator of the Case Study that helped CAI reach more than 3,000 PCAM designees, was recognized in May with CAI’s 2018 Award of Excellence in Designations.

When a host community is identified in a city or region, the community’s board provides CAI with documents, like CC&Rs, bylaws, insurance policies, reserve studies, budgets, newsletters, and other information.

CAI makes these documents available to candidates via a secure webpage several weeks prior to the Case Study. While candidates are reviewing this material in preparation for the site visit and review, the Case Study facilitator—a seasoned CAI instructor and PCAM designee— creates the 10 questions all the candidates must answer in writing after touring the host property and speaking with the community’s officials.

Finding Host Communities

“It can be challenging to find good host communities,” says Ann-Marie Johnson, ACA, CAE, CAI’s director of education and credentialing. “Hosting a Case Study is a real commitment, but it also is a tremendous learning opportunity.”

Johnson, who has spoken with dozens of communities over the years to explain the process and what’s involved, says host communities get a lot of support. Their own managers, staff, and board members, as well as business partners, the chapter, CAI staff, and Case Study facilitators, often provide essential elements of the Case Study experience—a document, a story, or a presentation.

In addition to sharing documents, host communities should invite board members and the association attorney, insurance representatives, and other affiliated association officials to attend the Case Study to answer candidates’ questions.

PCAM candidates often don’t know what kind of a community—high-rise or single-family—will be the host when they register for a Case Study, according to Patricia Martin, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, the facilitator for the recent Case Study in Chicago that helped bring the number of PCAM designees to more than 3,000. But the type of community is irrelevant, she says. “Whether the houses are spread out or stacked on top of one another, it’s still a community.”

Host Associations Benefit

Despite the work required to prepare to host a Case Study, and the scrutiny these communities experience, associations and their boards can realize significant benefits when facilitators share some of the papers written by the visiting PCAM candidates who bring a wealth of experience from all over the country—and sometimes from around the world.

“PCAM candidates are not rookies” says David Jennings, CAE, SPHR, CAI’s vice president of education. “Although candidates are there to learn and evaluate in preparation for writing their reports, their questions and final papers can provide helpful insight to the host community.”

“You’re bringing in a group of top managers … to essentially brainstorm about (your community),” says Darious Moore, board president for Winding River Village Condominium Association in Sandy Springs, Ga., which has hosted two Case Studies over the past decade. “And there’s a possibility you’ll get some new ideas.”

Case Study results “also can be an affirmation of what you’re doing right or of things you already know about,” says David Hill, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, a Winding River Village resident who is Director of management development with Access Management Group in Roswell, Ga.

Winding River Village received two papers written by PCAM candidates who toured there in March 2017.

PCAMs Who Teach

Managers who earn the PCAM designation must meet continuing education requirements every few years to maintain it. Serving as a member of CAI’s faculty and as a PCAM Case Study facilitator are a couple of ways to do that. A member of CAI’s faculty since 1999, Martin has served as a PCAM Case Study facilitator for more than a decade. She received CAI’s 2017 Award of Excellence in Designations at the 2018 Annual Conference and Exposition in May. The award recognizes a CAI member who has made “significant contributions to advance CAI’s designation programs and ethical standards.”

While the PCAM Case Study hasn’t changed significantly in the nearly 20 years Martin has been an instructor, she says, “My expectations are still pretty darn high, and it’s good for people to know this.”

Martin claims she is “very tough” when reviewing submitted papers and warns candidates that while the Case Study is doable, it’s not easy.

“I also tell students right away that there’s nothing collaborative about the Case Study,” she says. Where CAI’s other courses involve lots of teamwork and information sharing, Martin says, “This work is all you.” For those who achieve the hard-earned PCAM credential, this statement makes it all the more precious.

“Three thousand is a great number,” Martin adds. “But when you match that against all the managers who are available, that’s still a pretty elite group.”


Sean Pearson is CAI’s designations specialist. Julie Warren is Editor of Community Manager and CAI’s Manager of News and Content.


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