Words of Wisdom from Susan Berresford, Ford Foundation President

Susan Berresford, the retiring president of the Ford Foundation, was a featured speaker at one of the Council of Foundation’s Emerging Leader Salons. These salons were an opportunity to meet with fellow emerging philanthropic leaders and connect with seasoned leaders in the field. At the session, I asked her to describe the characteristics of an exceptional program officer. She said that a strong Program Officer has a series of traits that could be considered conflicting but each trait is necessary to create balance.

Exceptional Program Officers:

Have the ability to see conceptually and yet are detailed oriented.

Are good listeners but after they listen to ideas, they are able to drive good ideas forward.

Are polite and generous with their time with grantees and potential grantees but are able to get to the point and get things done.

What do you think about this list? Are there things that are missing? What are the characteristics that move someone from an average program officer to one that is truly an asset to their foundation and their community?