If you’ve not yet seen a written job description for the board chair, you are not alone. I think this is due, in part, to how board chairs are usually recruited—you accept the role of being the vice chair (which sounds easy) without fully considering the reality that some day you may be the board chair. Before you know it, you have been eased into position, your name has been placed on the nominating slate, and you wake-up one morning to realize that you are now the board chair. Too often this all happens without the kind of careful review you would do before accepting even less important responsibilities.
While this series of blog entries will attempt to dig deeply into the responsibilities of the board chair, what follows are the items that should be on any board chair’s job description:
• Serve as the board leader, managing the board so that it operates as an effective volunteer leadership “team” that works together to serve the mission and achieve the organization’s goals.
• Ensure effective communication among the board and between the board and the chief executive, and serve as the contact point for board members on all board issues.
• Work with the chief executive to develop the agenda for effective and efficient board meetings that engage the board in meeting their shared responsibilities and in providing strategic leadership.
• Lead and effectively facilitate meetings of the board and executive committee so as to engage all members in the deliberations and ensure that the desired meeting outcomes are achieved.
• Following meetings of the board and executive committee, work with the chief executive to ensure that board resolutions are carried out and to do whatever follow-up is required with board members.
• Assign committee chairs, ensure that all board members are serving on at least one committee, and coordinate the work of the committees to efficiently and effectively share in the work to be done and achieve organizational goals.
• Ensure that there is a strategic plan in place, that all members of the board and staff leadership are supportive of the plan, and that a process is in place for monitoring and updating the plan as needed.
• Take the lead in ensuring that the board and its committees are fulfilling their fiscal, legal, and governance responsibilities, and support ongoing or periodic assessment of board practices, board member performance, and organizational performance and effectiveness.
• Support the work of the governance/nominating committee to recruit board members who have the skills and abilities to further the organization’s strategic priorities and ensure that a process is in place to provide for a smooth succession of board leadership.
• Be prepared to call for and lead special meetings as needed and serve as the organization’s alternate spokesperson when required.
• Manage the board’s partnership and employment relationship with the chief executive, including ensuring that there is an annual performance and compensation review, ongoing and open communication, succession planning, and corrective action as needed.
• In the event of a vacancy, or impending vacancy, in the position of chief executive, develop the structure for a successful search process and ensure that the transition is handled appropriately.
• Set an example for other board members by communicating openly, attending the organization’s events, supporting fundraising activities, giving as generously as you can to the annual campaign, and otherwise modeling the board behavior you would like to see in others.
If you review job descriptions for almost any job, including your own, you’ll often find the line: “Other duties and responsibilities as assigned.” While you probably won’t see this at the bottom of the board chair’s job description, you need to appreciate that handling surprises and unexpected challenges is definitely part of the job. Ideally you’ll tackle these as part of a team—either with the chief executive or with the board—but you can be certain that during your time as chair that you will have at least one opportunity to say, “Hey, that wasn’t in the job description!”
If you are about to recruit the chair of your board (or the eventual chair), take time to develop a job description that you can talk about with your prospective chair. If you are about to become the chair and haven’t been handed a job description, ask for one or use the guidance here to develop one in conjunction with your chief executive. The process and the discussion will be tremendously helpful to both you and the chief executive.
For more board governance advice, explore the Starboard Leadership Consulting web site: www.starboardleadership.com, or contact Jeff Wahlstrom at (207) 992-4407.