An overview of the honorary officer positions in sports organisations, in particular the chair
Roles and responsibilities
Within each organisation, it is possible that an individual on the board will be appointed to perform additional duties in the position of an ‘honorary officer’. The most common honorary positions are those of chair, deputy/vice chair and treasurer. Honorary positions tend to be unpaid and should not be confused with the duties performed by paid staff. To ensure that all board members are clear as to their role and responsibilities it is advisable to have role descriptions for the board as a whole and specific ones dealing with these honorary positions.
It is important to remember that all board members are collectively responsible for the decisions and governance of the organisation. This does not mean that they must agree on every decision taken, but that they all have a duty to actively participate in the decision-making process.
Of critical importance is the position of chair.
The primary role of the chair is to provide leadership to the board. Some view the position as that of ‘first amongst equals’, an ambassador, and the public face of the organisation. Each body is likely to require different things from the role of chair and the board should discuss these when developing a role description for the position.
An effective chair will provide leadership and management to the board, enabling them to fulfil their responsibilities for the overall governance and strategic direction of the organisation. The chair will play an integral role in ensuring that appropriate decisions are correctly made, including developing the organisation’s aims in accordance with the governing document and legal and regulatory guidelines, and monitoring performance.
The chair will set the conditions for the overall board and the individual effectiveness of board members. They will also set clear expectations concerning the organisation's culture, values and behaviour, leading the board in ensuring that these are embedded and enforced.
The chair will need to work in partnership with the chief executive and governance lead or company secretary to ensure that decisions are acted upon and the organisation is managed effectively. The chair and chief executive should fully understand the difference between the role the board plays in governance, developing and agreeing the strategic direction, and that of the senior management team in applying that strategy to the day-to-day operations of the charity. With this distinction in mind, the roles of chair and chief executive should be separate and should not be fulfilled by the same individual. This is also a requirement of the Code for Sports Governance (1.17).
It is not a requirement of the Code that an organisation appoints a vice-chair, but Requirement 1.20 of Tier 3 states that each board shall appoint one of its NEDs to act as the Senior Independent Director (SID). The SID’s role includes:
- providing a sounding board for the chair
- serving as an intermediary for the other board members when necessary
- acting as an alternative contact for stakeholders to share any concerns if the normal channels of the chair or the organisation’s management fail to solve the matter, or in cases where such contact is inappropriate
- leading the process for the appraisal of the chair’s performance
Role description for the chair of the board
The chair provides leadership to the board with prime responsibility for ensuring it has agreed priorities, a coherent and achievable strategy, appropriate structures, processes and a productive culture. He or she enables the board to achieve its potential and secure the long term success of the organisation.
Main duties and responsibilities
In addition to those duties and responsibilities performed by all board members, the chair is generally considered to lead on:
- instigating and facilitating discussions on the strategic development of the organisation
- providing clarity of vision to the board
- ensuring that the board has agreed strategic priorities
- holding the chief executive to account for the effective management and delivery of the organisation’s strategic aims and objectives, where appropriate
- providing leadership and support to the chief executive officer, where appropriate
- supporting and appraising the performance of the chief executive officer and other appropriate members of the senior management team
- building and maintaining close relations between the organisation’s various constituencies and stakeholder groups to promote the effective operation of its activities
- upholding the values of the organisation by example, and ensuring that the organisation promotes equality and diversity for all its stakeholders
- facilitating effective board meetings, liaising with the company secretary/governance lead, and chief executive officer where appropriate, with the drafting of agendas and supporting papers for board meetings and ensuring that the business is covered efficiently and effectively in those meetings
- encouraging all board members to contribute their skills, experience and opinions in order to ensure adequate scrutiny
- creating a board environment with strong working relationships and where challenge and scrutiny are welcomed
- attending and chairing committees and other ad hoc meetings of the main board, liaising with the governance lead/company secretary to lead on the planning, setting and chairing of board meetings and general meetings, where appropriate
- ensuring, in liaison with the governance lead, that appropriate procedures, processes and controls are in place and followed
- participating in any board induction, training and evaluation as an individual board member and as part of the board or committee
- maintaining the board’s commitment to diversity, board renewal and succession planning, in line with the governing document and/or current good practice
- undergoing an individual and board performance appraisal, and attending any additional training highlighted as a result of the evaluation process
- undertaking evaluations of the performance of board members and directing the governance lead to facilitate remedial action where required
- acting between full meetings of the board in authorising action to be taken intra vires, g. banking transactions and legal documents in accordance with relevant mandates representing the organisation at functions, meetings and in the wider media, in line with the agreed media strategy
The following characteristics, knowledge and experience (or commitment to gain them) would be advantageous to the role of chair:
- high level of understanding and interest in the issues relevant to the sport and the activities of the organisation
- a commitment to the organisation’s values and principles
- strong business and financial acumen
- experience of committee work
- highly developed interpersonal and communication skills
- proven leadership skills
- strong organisational skills
- ability to understand complex strategic issues, analyse and resolve difficult problems
- sound, independent judgement, common sense and diplomacy
- high standards of personal integrity and probity
- politically astute, with the ability to grasp relevant issues and understand relationships between interested parties
- clear understanding, and acceptance, of the legal duties, liabilities and responsibilities of trustees
- sound knowledge of governance
- sufficient time and commitment to fulfil the role
For more on the role of chair, check out our tools below.