Our board needs a new secretary who’s not a secretary

Borthwick Chris Jul2019lg

In this help sheet series, Our Community’s resident agony uncle, Chris Borthwick, offers answers to frequently asked questions about issues not-for-profits are facing.

Dear Agony Uncle,

Currently, our board’s secretary is the CEO’s executive assistant. Board members have been uncomfortable with this arrangement for a while and agree we need to look for an appropriately experienced person for this role.

Are you able to point me towards resources/organisations/information that can assist us?

This could include:

  • a position description we could customise to our needs
  • people/organisations we could contact who know suitably experienced people, at least on a short-term basis.

Agony Uncle's answer

Before we get as far as a position description, I’m afraid your board is going to have to settle for itself what it wants its secretary to do. Remember Yes, Minister?

Sir Humphrey: Well briefly, sir, I am the Permanent Under Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Woolley here is your Principal Private Secretary. I too have a Principal Private Secretary and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are ten Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under Secretaries and 219 Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretaries are plain Private Secretaries, and the Prime Minister will be appointing two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries and you will be appointing your own Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Hacker: Can they all type?

Sir Humphrey: None of us can type. Mrs Mackay types: she's the secretary.

A board secretary can be a mover and shaker, or a penpusher, or can combine elements of both. All of these are fine for different kinds of board work. But you can’t expect a position description to make this decision for you.

Best wishes,
Agony Uncle.

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