What Is a Parliamentarian?

By The Parliamentary Team


A parliamentarian is a coach and an advisor. Familiar with Robert’s Rules and the organization’s constitution, bylaws, and other governing documents, the parliamentarian helps the presiding officer prepare for a meeting and, at that meeting, serves as an impartial advisor to the presiding officer with respect to questions of parliamentary order and interpretation of the organization’s governing documents. A parliamentarian’s job is to ensure that a meeting goes as smoothly and as legitimately as possible, so that all matters are properly raised, discussed, and, if necessary, voted upon. However, the parliamentarian’s judgment is not the final word. That authority rests with the presiding officer.


A parliamentarian can help the presiding officer well before the meeting by assisting in preparing an agenda, anticipating procedural challenges, and, if necessary, providing a parliamentarian opinion that can then be shared with the membership should a particularly thorny issue arise.


But the parliamentarian’s biggest job is to be present at the meeting and to advise as to procedure and interpretation. Hence, the parliamentarian must be well-versed with Robert’s Rules (latest version) and the organization’s governing documents. The parliamentarian’s job is to answer questions from the chair and to intervene when proper procedure is not being followed. The presiding officer may overrule the parliamentarian’s advice, but this will cast doubt on the proceedings and open up the organization to all manner of confusion and contestation. Moreover, a parliamentarian whose advice is ignored is recommended to resign the post and not be party to any malfeasance.


A parliamentarian can also serve an organization by writing, revising and/or editing Constitutions, Bylaws, Standing and/or Special Rules, and by offering parliamentary Procedure Training for officers, members, and delegates.


Some organizations fill the parliamentarian position from its ranks, i.e., the presiding officer appoints or the board approves a member to serve as parliamentarian either for one meeting (e.g., an annual convention) or for a period of time (e.g., a one-year term). Other organizations hire a parliamentarian, usually for a special meeting like an annual convention. Professional parliamentarians tend to be better versed in Robert’s Rules, but they may not be as conversant with the organization’s governing documents, history, and unique politics as a member might be. There are several companies that train, accredit, and certify professional parliamentarians, and organizations are encouraged to shop around with respect to price, expertise, and “fit” with their specific organization.


Whether in-house or professional, the parliamentarian can help an organization run smoothly with the confidence that it is following the rules, abiding by its governing documents, and making lawful decisions.

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