Just months after a major reorganisation, which included scrapping the deputy general secretary's post, the association claims it is ready to take on the Secondary Heads Association by promising more tailored services for heads and deputies.
It admits it was caught out by the growth of enquiries from members following the introduction of local management into schools. A recent review of the association by management consultants Coopers Lybrand led to a new regional structure with 15 home-based field officers or consultants now in place.
Rowie Shaw, who took over as director of professional services last month, said the association hoped to double its secondary membership during the next two to three years. It currently includes about 5,000 secondary heads and deputies out of a total membership of 38,000.
Many of these also join SHA, which has about 8,600 members, but the NAHT does not know how many actually hold dual membership. "We have no way of ascertaining that. It's one of the things we might try and do," says Ms Shaw, a former secondary head in Bradford and Tower Hamlets.
One of the main reasons heads give for joining SHA, she says, is that it is seen to offer a specialist service to secondaries. "There is no reason why specialist and sector interests can't be represented by NAHT."
And her association hopes to counter SHA's successful management and professional services (MAPS) programme with training workshops and other services, many of which are offered in partnership with local authorities or higher education institutions. The association would, if necessary, act as a broker. "We don't need to offer all these services ourselves," says Ms Shaw. "But we may know a man or woman who does."
Alan Winter, the NAHT's new director of administration, claims it is now more commercially aware. "We have to be more business-like and that means taking some fairly hard-nosed business approaches." As well as generating new commercial contacts, including discount schemes for members, the NAHT will focus on strategic planning and try to create a corporate culture. "It's no great secret the association was somewhat behind in terms of modern management techniques," says Mr Winter, former senior administrative officer at Winchester City Council.
It is also investing in information technology and expects to have a new electronic database running later in the year. Field officers will be linked to the database, and heads and deputies should also eventually be able to gain direct access.
Mr Winter's responsibilities include finance, membership issues and human resources. Rowie Shaw, meanwhile, co-ordinates the four units at the NAHT's Haywards Heath headquarters covering education, training and development, professional advice and salaries and pensions.
She will concentrate on issues which do not obviously fall within the remit of one unit. "In the past professional services were spread among a number of people and lines of communication were not as clear as they should have been," she says. Within the new structure, general secretary David Hart will continue to enjoy the highest profile and has his own unit to co-ordinate lobbying activiites such as the current campaign over league tables.
But following last summer's departure of deputy general secretary David Burbage, Ms Shaw will, when required, stand in for Mr Hart. "It's the old 'falling under a bus' syndrome," she says. "There needs to be someone who can step in but not in the traditional deputy general secretary role which other associations have."