What is the role of the board chair in creating an effectively run association?

As an association management company (AMC) we work with many different associations and encourage each to streamline their board meetings to help the board do its primary job of thinking strategically versus operationally. Achieving this begins by working closely with the board chair.

The board chair is the chief volunteer on the board that keeps the organization on task and running smoothly. The chair manages the board’s performance rather than the performance of the association. The basic duties of a board chair look like this:

  • When present, preside at all meetings of the board and of members;
  • Provide instruction and guidance to the executive director in executing the policies and programs of the association to fulfill its objectives, purposes and goals;
  • Guide the board in making such decisions and establishing such policies and programs in order to fulfill the objects, purposes and goals of the association;
  • Receive information and provide guidance to the chairs of the standing committees of the association; and
  • Exercise such powers and perform such other duties as may from time to time be assigned to him/her by the board.

The chair presides over the board meetings and is responsible for keeping the board focused on the tasks at hand and drawing out board members to participate in meetings. Many topics on board agendas can stimulate conversation that isn’t effective so the chair’s role is to bring the conversation back on track and work towards creating a conclusion or action item from the agenda item. Understanding this role is crucial to having productive meetings.

The effectiveness of a board meeting is a direct reflection of the clarity and focus of the agenda. As staff of an AMC, we typically develop the agenda as a starting point for the client and then share it with the chair for their input before finalizing. The board chair runs the meeting so they must have a clear understanding of all the agenda items and should be able to explain them. At a recent training session I attended, the presenter suggested that the board chair was 100% responsible for creating the meeting agenda. Both work, but the bottom line is that the chair must take ownership of the meeting by clearly understanding the agenda.

The chair provides instruction and guidance to the executive director and ensures that they understand the priorities of the association and have the necessary resources to achieve the goals of the association. Monitoring and providing feedback to the executive director is a very important role of the chair and is one of the most important responsibilities.

Representing the association at major events or dealing with stakeholders usually falls to the chair as they represent the knowledge in their industry and is seen as a leader.

Leading the board’s self evaluation and/or peer to peer evaluation annually is the role of the chair and should be looked at closely to ensure that the board members understand their contribution to the overall functioning of the association.

As you can see, the role of the chair is not an easy one and when choosing the chair for the association it is important to take a careful to look at the skill set required to lead the association successfully. Some of the skills required are intelligence, curiosity, meeting management skills, good communication skills, and the ability to lead. This is by no means an exhaustive list and the qualities could be different depending on the association you are involved with.

Regardless, the best board chairs will focus their skills and efforts on running the board instead of running the operations.