The Committee Chair: A Breakdown of Vital Skills and Duties

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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.

Let's explore the core committee chair responsibilities.

Common Committee Chair Responsibilities

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.

Committee chair responsibilities can be summed up into these key categories.

Plan and Facilitate Committee Meetings

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:

  • Establish and confirm an agenda for each meeting in consultation with the executive director or CEO in addition to other committee members when necessary.
  • Keep the committee focused on the topics at hand and address committee members who consistently take the group off-topic.
  • Establish a welcoming and engaging environment that invites a variety of perspectives into the discussion.
  • Take note of who raises their hand and keep a running list of names in a speaking queue if necessary.
  • Go to the board chair regarding any committee members who fail to protect confidentiality or who have known conflicts of interest.
  • Call emergency meetings if necessary.

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.

Present Findings and Recommendations to the Board

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.

Consistently Assess the Committee’s Development

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:

  • Periodically review the committee’s charge and ensure its work aligns with the organization’s mission, goals, and governing documents.
  • Regularly review the performance of individual team members to ensure everyone’s contributing and completing their assignments.
  • Address anyone who doesn’t contribute in a constructive way so that the committee can do its absolute best work.

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.

Help the Next Committee Chair Get Up and Running

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.

Studies have found that board leaders like committee chairs should have a succession plan in place.

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.

These are the skills you should look for in your committee chairs.

Skills That Make for an Outstanding Committee Chair

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:

Prioritize these skills when selecting your board's committee chairs.

  1. Effective communication. A staple of effective board committees is teamwork, and this is only achievable with a leader who prioritizes effective communication. Committee chairs should be able to communicate ideas with committee members, board, staff, and other groups. The other half of effective communication is listening. They should be willing to hear a range of ideas and perspectives to help guide their work.
  2. Facilitation. When it comes to running a meeting, your first thought might be that it requires a clear voice and presentation skills. While true, it also requires the facilitator to stick to the agenda, keep everyone corralled, and address anyone who dominates the conversation. Effective facilitation comes naturally for some people, while others may need some additional training to be highly efficient.
  3. Proactivity and leadership. Your committee chair candidates should show passion for furthering the organization’s work and a willingness to take the initiative on projects to ensure that mission is fulfilled. They should command attention and lead by example to inspire others to do their best work.
  4. Administrative skills. The person you choose should show a solid understanding of the committee chair role, and they should support orderly procedures for conducting work based on proper governance procedures. They should recognize how the committee fits into the larger work of the board and organization and translate that into overseeing the group.
  5. Committee-specific skills. Make sure they have the proper background that will set them up for success for the specific committee they’ll potentially chair. This ensures they have the inside know-how on what it takes to fulfill the committee’s charges. For instance, the treasurer typically doubles as the finance committee chair since they already have insight into the organization’s finances.

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.

This section features a few ways committee chairs can improve their performance.

Best Practices for Committee Chairs

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:

Committee chairs should follow tips like these to improve their management skills.

  • Encourage a clash of ideas but not personalities. A diverse range of perspectives enables more well-rounded decisions so long the conversation doesn’t become a series of emotional reactions to different comments. When emotions start to run high, return the floor to a neutral speaker or simply take a break.
  • Periodically restate the issue or goal of the discussion. The last thing you want is to deviate from the agenda’s crucial topics. If the conversation often veers off track, try revisiting the issue at hand or goal of the discussion to keep people on track.
  • Share activities and challenges with the CEO and board chair. Simply because the committee chair is in a leadership position doesn’t mean they have to navigate every challenge on their own. Regularly communicating with the CEO and board chair on responsibilities enables other informed individuals to chime in to advise the committee chair on next steps and point out potential pitfalls.

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.

Board software can make a committee chair's work much simpler.

How A Board Portal Can Enhance Your Board Chair’s Performance

The right board tools can streamline work for your committee chairs.

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:

  1. Virtual and hybrid meetings. The virtual landscape is here to stay, and your committees can jump in on this trend by centralizing meetings within your board management platform. Boardable Spotlight makes it easy for in-person and remote attendees to collaborate via video conference and quickly access each meeting’s details, agenda, and other correlating documents. Already rely on Zoom? No problem! Boardable integrates with Zoom so you can eliminate the need for separate meeting links and access codes and still use all your board management tools on one screen.
  2. Voting. Committees have to frequently make decisions. Make it easy for your committee chairs to facilitate these discussions and hold a vote with our Polls + Virtual Voting feature. Highlight important decision-making items leading up to meetings or create them on a whim. Allow virtual voting so attendees working from home can make sure their vote counts. You can also enable anonymous voting for sensitive issues so everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinions. No need for paper ballots or hand-raising when everything’s automatically tallied for you!
  3. Reporting. Do your committees set specific objectives to achieve? Track goals and monitor progress with the Reporting feature. Set a timeframe and use trackable numerical, percentage-based, or currency-based benchmarks to specify the type of goal you want to accomplish. You can also get a snapshot of each committee’s engagement by running pre-built reports for things like attendance, task completion, poll participation, and meeting downloads.

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.

Get a free trial of Boardable to streamline your board and committee chair's work.

Let's wrap up the discussion on committee chairs.

Conclusion and Additional Resources

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: