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How to be the best secretary

Nobody is perfect, but follow these top 10 tips to go from being just another good secretary to being the best secretary your group has ever had.

1.    Manage meetings

A great secretary will ensure all members of the board know when the next meeting is. Dates for board meetings are set in stone at the beginning of the year and each member is given a calendar of meeting dates. A secretary should send the agenda to board members a week before the meeting, and, where possible, contact them on the day to ensure they haven't forgotten.

2.    Stay on their backs

Once a secretary finishes the minutes they should start focusing on those matters arising from them - this primarily involves calling or emailing each member of the board and reminding them what they promised to do (or, if they didn't show, what they got stuck with).

3.    Keep things moving

Before sending out pre-meeting papers a great secretary will run through the perfect draft agenda with the chair, working out which matters are most pressing for the board.

4.    Know what's what

A great secretary must know which matters require board decisions, which matters require discussion, and which matters the board must be told about, but aren't important enough to waste meeting time on.

5.    Keep it clean

A secretary should realise space on the agenda is valuable 'real estate', which is not to be given away lightly. No matter should be guaranteed a place at every meeting, and any matter that isn't of great importance should be kept off the list when possible.

6.    Be selective

A great secretary will keep an eye on the issues which are important, but aren't yet ready to be brought to the board - usually because others may need to be consulted or costs may still need to be checked.

7.    Make them read

A great secretary will send meeting papers to members both by email, for speed, and snail-mail, so they have a hardcopy to bring to the meeting. Whatever a secretary does there will always be a member who claims they weren't notified of the agenda - a great secretary gives them no excuses.

8.    Make them read II

While a good secretary will send out all the board papers prior to a meeting, a great secretary will make it known that board members must do their reading - or else. There's nothing worse than a board meeting where members are trying to bluff their way out of not knowing the agenda items.

9.    Spread the word

If holding an AGM, a great secretary will ensure the meeting is appropriately advertised beforehand.

10.    Stay on top

A great secretary needs to understand that no decision is often the worst decision. Before a meeting, a great secretary will talk to the chair about which parts of the agenda will need an outcome by the end of the meeting, and what possible obstacles can be avoided before the board hits them.

This article appeared in Board Builder September 2013.

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