A board chair handles a multitude of responsibilities and plays a key role in any board of directors. Here's a look at typical roles, skills, and challenges they face.
While CEOs and board chairs share significant responsibilities within a company or organization, the roles require different skill sets and leading styles.
A CEO is an organization’s top executive who serves as the chief decision-maker; some companies and organizations refer to their top executive as the president or an executive director. A board chair’s primary responsibility is leading a board of directors, which is often comprised of executives and/or prominent shareholders.
What Responsibilities Does a Board Chair Have?
- Leading board meetings: A board chair is responsible for presiding at board meetings. The board chair serves as a conduit for all the board members and their individual needs. The chair also acts as the primary contact for the board members when meetings are not in session and is responsible for calling special meetings as necessary.
- Setting agendas: The board chair collaborates with the CEO, president, or executive director to establish dynamic agendas for each board meeting. The agenda informs board members of the topics that will be discussed during each board meeting. It also provides structure and presents the board chair with a schedule to maintain in order to advance the goals of the company/organization.
- Meeting leadership/management: The board chair should be an open-minded facilitator who is eager to encourage board members to voice their stances freely. It is the board chair’s responsibility to foster an environment where diverse discussions, questions and differing opinions are welcome. An effective board chair enables thoughtful and meaningful discussions while executing the agenda’s plan.
- Create and oversee committees/task forces: Committees and task forces provide a platform for board members to deal with specific issues in a more effective manner. The board chair often collaborates with a CEO, president, or executive director to appoint chairs to oversee committees or task forces. The board chair should receive status reports from the committee chairs to ensure they are staying on track to meet their goals.
- Evaluation: The board chair should routinely conduct evaluations to determine the board’s effectiveness. The evaluation process includes reviewing agendas and the performance of board members and committee/task force chairs. Board chairs should share their evaluations with board members and executives alike; open discussions about what is expected from board members and how they can improve will make board meetings run more efficiently.
What Challenges Do They Face?
- Collaboration: Board chairs must recognize that each board member is different; some have strong personalities, while others are more reserved. It is the board chair’s responsibility to lead board meetings in a manner in which all members feel comfortable enough to share their opinions in an honest fashion. In addition to facilitating an open discussion with all board members, the board chair must also maintain strong communication with committee and task force chairs to ensure their members are also collaborating equally.
- Board performance: Because CEOs and executive directors are constantly evaluating the performance of their board of directors, board chairs must be comfortable with the reality that their performance is always under review. For this reason, a board chair must be a master communicator who’s capable of diagnosing the concerns of CEOs so they can immediately be addressed.
- Fulfilling business or organization mission: Boards of directors are only able to function with competent board chairs who possess comprehensive understandings of the business or organization’s mission. While board chairs encourage members to share their opinions and objectives, they must always—above all else—remember their primary goal is to fulfill the mission of the businesses or organizations they serve.
What Skills Do They Need to Possess?
- Act as a fiduciary: Board chairs must be impartial and objective and understand they’re legally required to serve in the best interest of the board of directors and not themselves as individuals.
- Strong leadership characteristics: Board chairs must be respected in order to be an effective leader; they must speak clearly and succinctly and be approachable as well as sensitive to the feelings of board members. Board chairs must be knowledgeable about the contents of agendas and capable of steering discussions when needed. The board chair also must hold board members and committee/task force chairs accountable if they are not fulfilling their responsibilities.
- Ability to collaborate: The board chair and CEO share a common passion for the company/organization’s goals. It’s essential that the two leaders meet regularly—ideally weekly—to discuss any concerns or questions the CEO might have about the board of directors. Board chairs should view the weekly meetings as planning periods for future agendas. The board chair and CEO should work as a partnership; the strength of their relationship is the hallmark to a successful board of directors.
- Strategic direction And execution: Although the board chair and CEO work in concert to establish agendas that will be carried out in board meetings, the board chair rarely has the luxury of bouncing ideas off the CEO when meetings are in session. Board chairs must possess their own strategic direction and be quick on their feet; a board of directors with diverse viewpoints and expertise is best served by a board chair who is capable of executing a multifaceted agenda.
What Changed for Boards in 2021?
About The Author
- At OnBoard, we believe board meetings should be informed, effective, and uncomplicated. That’s why we give boards and leadership teams an elegant solution that simplifies governance. With customers in higher education, nonprofit, health care systems, government, and corporate enterprise business, OnBoard is the leading board management provider.