The Chair's Role

3 minutes
Lisa Ross

By Lisa Ross

In my last blog I highlighted a concerning statistic to come out of this year's TPP 2023 survey -"41% of senior staff do not feel supported by their Board."

In this article I look to build on this by exploring the Chair’s role and how it contributes to ensuring an effective board.

Fundamentally it’s the Chair’s responsibility to guide the board and to ensure the governance of the charity.   A Chair therefore needs thorough understanding of governance and the legal responsibilities of being a Trustee.  

Leadership

Although a charity board has shared responsibility, the Chair has the responsibility ‘to lead’ and is viewed as such by the CEO and other key stakeholders.   

The leadership role of a Chair is distinct from a CEO as it’s about leading the governance of the charity not it’s day to day operations, however a significant part of the role is ensuring they complement each other.  The Chair’s role is to get the best from the CEO and hold them to account for their performance, this is not a one-way relationship in which the Chair continually challenges the CEO, rather, a two-way approach through a combination of support, advice and constructive challenge (and being able to listen and to be open to feedback from the CEO).  

An effective Chair will define with the Board the collective role needed to be played given the current circumstances; it’s about negotiating the boundaries, not making assumptions, exercising good judgement, building trust, working behind the scenes and enabling the Board to make tough decisions and celebrate successes.  

Understand the charity’s mission and values.

A Chair needs to ensure the charity has clear direction and is achieving its aims, every Board member needs to be clear about what the charity exists for and the difference it wants to make.  They can do this by ensuring regular board review of strategy and evaluation of impact, as well as having a realistic assessment of the charity’s strengths, weaknesses and risks for effective decision making.   

Cohesive Board

A Chair has an important role in ‘setting the tone’ for a collaborative board.

Great teamwork is required. Therefore, the Board meetings need to offer a conducive environment for hearing different perspectives ensuring everyone has a ‘voice,’ allowing for disagreements/challenges as these are incredibly healthy for a Board, and it is through this process that better solutions are designed, with input from a wider variety of individuals.  For a Board to operate cohesively every Trustee needs to be appreciated and valued for the insight and different skills they bring. 

It’s important the Chair invests time in the Board both as a team and individually. The Chair needs to monitor silent members, inconsistent attendees, over-dominant members, members who come ill prepared to meetings and take steps to address. It’s also planning Board succession in good time, ensuring the board is diverse so it has diversity of outlook, background, experience and expertise, creating an atmosphere where everyone is valued and respected.

We find rigorous recruitment and induction procedures result in the best performing boards.  At TPP we encourage diversity of outlook, background, experience and expertise through an open recruitment process.  Just give us a call and we can guide you through this in more detail.

Constructive Relationships. 

Constructive relationships both internally, with the executive team and externally with stakeholders play a significant role in the charity’s success, with the Chair fostering and managing those relationships while being clear about roles, boundaries and addressing any conflicts.  

In summary a Chair’s role is multifaceted, requires an understanding of governance, an appreciation of the charity sector’s complexities, effective leadership skills, clarity of purpose, board cohesion and the nurturing of constructive relationships to ensure the charity’s success and alignment with its mission.  It demands a distinctive type of leadership with its own demands and opportunities but one which is highly impactful and rewarding.  

An effective Chair is a necessity for the success of a charity.  For further reading I highly recommend reading the Chair's Compass - Association of Chairs.

At TPP we’ve worked with numerous charities advising on effective Board recruitment.

We are experts in partnering with charities, providing the right level of support to search to Chair vacancies, and often do so through extensive search and selection.   Why not give us a ring for an informal chat and we’d happily chat you through our process – speak to Emma, Matt or Lisa on 0207 198 6060 or email executive@tpp.co.uk  

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