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Becoming a Chief Executive

Posted on 13/12/2015 by Jo Hodge


Many people aspire to lead an organisation. Hired by and ultimately responsible to the Board of Trustees, the charity CEO (or Director/Executive Director) has become ever more professional. Challenges in executive jobs are varied, whether it be recruiting and retaining the right staff, funding and delivering services, or raising profile and campaigning. It can be a lonely role, stuck between staff, Trustees and other stakeholders; in fact, being a charity CEO is one of the most challenging senior management positions.

Paths to becoming a CEO are varied. The public sector supplies more and more CEOs, possibly a reflection of the importance of understanding how Government works in this age of increased commissioning. The private sector also supplies its fair share of candidates who, in addition to learning new terminology, are now working 'for purpose' rather than purely for profit or shareholders. And, of course, a common route is to move up within the sector; less cultural challenges, an understanding of funding issues, and a proven ability to get the most out of lean resources.

CEOs tend to come from programmes/service delivery or income generation/profile-raising rather than finance or HR fields. From commerce or public sector, senior general management is attractive with the ability to manage across an organisation being key. There is a much-increased need to report success and impact, and non-sector specialists are more likely to need a very strong SMT to support.

One of the best ways to gain exposure to the ups and downs of running a charity is to volunteer as a Trustee and we strongly recommend this.