While every board member plays an important role in the governance of an organisation, the chair holds the greatest influence over the focus and culture of the board’s activities. Therefore, it is vital that boards take great care in appointing their chairs.
When discussing the role of the chair for your organisation, there are several factors to consider.
What exactly does the chair do?
The chair of the board provides leadership in maintaining a unified purpose within the governance structure of the organisation. They also provide a holistic and comprehensive perspective in the oversight of the organisation’s affairs.
The chair does not represent a specific sector, region, or a personal position within the organisation or industry; rather, they maintain an inclusive view of issues or policies that are being considered. Of particular concern to the chair is the unity, processes, and functioning of the board, and that all directors are actively involved.
The chair also ensures that board meetings are designed and implemented in a way that facilitates comprehensive and inclusive dialogue and effective decision-making.
What qualities and skills should a chair have?
A good chair leads by example and inspires the other board members to govern to the best of their ability. They lead with professionalism and integrity.
The chair needs to have the skills to communicate with their fellow board members but also others in the organization, including the CEO, stakeholders, or individuals outside the organization. He or she must be approachable and willing to speak clearly, openly, and diplomatically.
It’s important that the chair considers each board member’s opinions without personal bias and summarises the board’s discussion points objectively. The chair must also keep in mind that while they’re allowed to express their personal opinion, their opinion doesn’t hold more weight than those of the other board members.
Like the CEO, the chair is often considered the face of the organisation. Therefore, it’s important that they can network well—both tapping into existing networks and growing the organisation’s new networks.
Non-profit organisations are filled with smart, passionate individuals and it’s not uncommon for conflicts to arise in this environment. If disagreements are not addressed, this can lead to infighting between board members—a surefire way to cause major disruption in the organisation. It’s vital that the chair feels comfortable dealing with conflict and helping resolve the matter in a positive manner.
A successful chair needs to devote a fairly significant amount of time to the board; their role requires much more than facilitating a monthly meeting. The chair must support the CEO when needed and be available for meetings and appointments. They are there to govern, not manage, but they have a more hands-on role than other board members.