From task forces to standing and ad hoc committees, a board of directors relies on a variety of smaller groups to complete its work. In fact, board research suggests that committees are where most board activity actually takes place. Those who chair committees play vital roles in ensuring these groups remain productive and serve their greater purpose.
The committee chair is a dynamic position that requires an equally dynamic individual to do the role justice. Whoever fills the position should have the proper qualifications, fully understand their responsibilities, and be motivated to fulfill their committee’s charges — no matter if they’re leading the public relations, governance, or finance committee.
While it may seem like a ton of work, holding this position can be very rewarding considering that it plays a vital role in helping the board fulfill a specific purpose. A committee chair’s leadership capabilities will determine the overall committee’s success or failure. After all, it’s up to this individual to ensure the committee fulfills its duties to its best ability.
Given the power this position holds, it’s up to you, whether you’re the CEO or board chair, to select committee chairs and ensure everyone is up to the task. If your current leadership is falling short of expectations, it might be time to consider a structural overhaul and rethink who you put into these positions. To help narrow down your options, we’ve pulled together common duties, skills, and tips that can help transform each chair into an innovative, reliable leader for your board. That way, you can redefine and effectively communicate expectations and select the best individual for the role. Here’s what you’ll learn:
At Boardable, we work with board and committee leaders across a variety of organizations throughout for-profit and nonprofit industries. We supply boards and committees with the tools they need to lead their organizations in more effective and productive ways — regardless of what mission they’re pursuing. After working directly with committee chairs who have all types of leadership styles, we have a thorough understanding of common expectations and necessary skills for this role. Ready to learn what it takes to be a rockstar committee chair? Let’s dive in.
You can’t put someone in a leadership position and expect them to automatically know what to do. As a leader yourself, you understand that if you want someone to succeed, you need to define their exact duties and proactively communicate those to them as you bring them into the role. Let’s take a look at the basic committee chair responsibilities that apply to every single committee your board has.
To fulfill its charges, committees must meet on a regular basis, and the committee chair runs point on meeting preparation and facilitation. This goes beyond simply coordinating a time to meet and talking about different activities that the committee is responsible for. Planning and running a committee meeting requires the chair to:
It’s important for committee chairs to constantly remember that they’re responsible for the work their committee does (and does not) complete. Encourage them to keep this front of mind and use it as motivation to keep everyone focused and on track.
RELATED: Need to reimagine your approach to preparing for your committee meetings? Check out our board meeting agendas guide to improve your meeting structure and make sure you’re addressing the most important items.
At board meetings, executive officers and committee chairs are expected to present a formal report to the board, letting everyone know what they’ve been working on and what’s still on their to-do list. In some cases, the committee chair might not be a board member, in which case they should task a committee member who’s also part of the board to deliver the report.
These reports typically cover the committee’s major activities or roadblocks they’ve identified that have prevented them from completing those activities. If tasked with finding a solution to a particular problem, the report should clearly present the committee’s recommendations and next steps.
Depending on the board’s preferences, reporting can be done either orally or in writing. Typically it’s done orally at meetings, but some organizations may also require each committee to compile a written report at the end of each year to describe their committees’ activities and decisions.
Your committees each hold a unique and very specific purpose. As the group’s leader, it’s up to the chair to consistently assess the committee’s performance and ensure members are headed in the right direction. This often requires the committee chair to:
A committee’s performance directly impacts the board’s ability to complete its duties, and it’s up to the chair to ensure everyone’s pulling their weight. If a committee chair notices these red flags and is unable to handle them, they should elevate it to the board chair or executive director, so they can step in.
Succession planning research has found that while 86% of leaders believe leadership succession planning is incredibly important, only 14% think their organization does it well. Further, only 35% of organizations have a formalized succession planning process in place, meaning their organizations fumble through the process and likely miss a ton of crucial points.
Poor succession planning procedures can send your organization spiraling as it tries to weather the transition between leaders. Avoid this altogether with more effective succession planning that extends beyond executive officers, like your committee chairs.
While the executive director or board chair will be responsible for selecting candidates, any current committee chairs can assist in the transition to their successors. As part of their duties, require them to create a formalized list of duties. Then, when they step down or rotate out of the position, they should debrief the new chair on expectations and the committee’s charges. As part of this, they should also offer advice based on their experiences.
RELATED: Learn more about effectively transitioning new leaders into their roles with our succession planning checklist.
Selecting the right individuals for each committee chair role is not a task you should take lightly. It requires careful deliberation because whoever you put in these positions will be in charge of specific aspects of your board for the next year or so, depending on their term limit.
Effective committee chairs come in all shapes and sizes, but there are a few key qualities they need to have to be successful in any capacity. Here’s a quick checklist of skills that you should run through when narrowing down your candidates:
Between the clear need for effective leadership and a more subtle need for structural understanding, there’s a lot to keep your eye peeled for when narrowing down your choices for committee chairs. Knowing what types of skills you need will help each committee fulfill its purpose and enable you to select someone who will excel in the committee chair role.
Even with a firm objective and inspired members, a committee will struggle if the chair is struggling to connect with members and lead the group. As the CEO or board chair, you should consistently monitor the success of your leadership team. This way, you’ll more likely recognize if committee management is falling short of expectations early on.
If that’s the case, don’t leave the committee chair to fend for itself! Reach out with a helping hand and offer a few words of advice, such as:
The success of a committee chair will ultimately depend on their willingness to learn and how proactive they are toward becoming better communicators. Encourage them to continuously grow by leveraging these best practices, reaching out to your organization’s current and former chairs, and researching advice from other organization’s committee chairs. In no time, they’ll transform into the leaders your organization needs.
Between running meetings, reporting back to the board on activities, and evaluating success, there’s a lot on your committee chairs’ plates. At one time, they had to handle every minute detail manually, but thanks to modern technology, they don’t have to lead the charge alone anymore.
Dedicated board management software like Boardable empowers all types of organizations to transform their teams into powerful leaders. Here are just a few features that will take your committee chair’s work from subpar to outstanding:
With the right tools on your side, your committee chairs can inspire members to stay on track and make powerful strides toward your objectives.
Not sure if board management software is the right fit for your team? Check out our full list of features to get a sense of what our board portal can do for you. To see the software in action, start your two-week free trial and see for yourself how our tools fit into your operations both committee- and board-wide.
Your committees are where the bulk of your board’s work is completed, so there’s no room to let committee management fall by the wayside. Your committee chairs lead these groups toward success, ensuring they fulfill their purpose while adhering to effective governance practices every step of the way.
Being a committee chair can certainly be a time-consuming venture between planning meetings, facilitating them, and reporting back to the board. However, it’s highly rewarding when you invest plenty of time into strengthening your committee structure and leadership. In turn, this may even become a breeding ground for future executive officers at your organization, helping you build a pipeline of candidates for internal growth.
Whether you’re a CEO, board chair, or committee chair, test out the advice we offered in this guide, and see how it flies at your organization. If you’d like to continue your research into effective board management, check out these resources that were crafted by the experts here at Boardable: