The two critical roles - chairperson and chief executive

19 September 2016

F Warren McFarlan, Baker Foundation Professor of the Social Enterprise Initiative at Harvard Business School cites the recruitment of a chief executive as one of the most important tasks facing a non-profit board. Similarly having the right chairperson in place beforehand is critical to the future direction of an organisation.

There are essential differences in the two roles: one carries the ultimate responsibility for the academy trust, is unpaid, part-time and a leader in the background whereas the other is responsible for the day to day operations, is remunerated and a more visible leader. While it is worth noting that there are some high-profile chairs that can play an important role in promoting and furthering a charity’s work, this should be balanced with maintaining a clear distinction about who does what. These sometimes conflicting standpoints mean that it is imperative that the right individuals fill these two critical roles and that they have the ability to work well together to achieve the organisation’s goals.

The following questions to consider have been developed from Joining a Nonprofit Board: What you need to know, Marc J Epstein, F Warren McFarlan:

Questions a Chairperson should periodically consider

  • Is the Chief Executive the visible leader of the academy trust and do I work appropriately behind the scenes?
  • Do I still have the confidence of the board?
  • Am I up to date on changes to the sector in which the academy trust operates? 
  • Do I have sufficient insight of the academy trust?
  • Have I considered my successor?

 Questions a Chief Executive should periodically consider

  • Am I still the right person for the job given the academy trust’s current state?
  • Do I still have the support of the board?
  • Am I perceived as an asset or liability to the academy trust?
  • Do I work well with the chairperson?
  • Do I have the right management structure and team in place to support the board’s objectives?
  • Am I bringing on/developing new talent within the academy trust?  

Honest answers to these questions should then identify when it is appropriate to think about succession for the chairperson and chief executive. Request your copy of our charity governance 2020 report.

For more information, please contact Hannah Catchpool or download the back to school PDF.