ICSA has developed a competency framework to identify the characteristics of good professional performance and support career development
It is a truth universally acknowledged in our community that the essential role of the company secretary in enabling good governance lacks the wider recognition it deserves.
As the professional body for chartered secretaries and governance professionals, it is our mission to change this. We are building a better platform for the recognition of our members’ roles and the contribution that they make – not just to their organisations, but to the wider social good by supporting and guiding the boards of our companies, charities and public institutions.
ICSA also has a duty to provide our members with the resources, career development support and opportunities that help them to keep learning, reflecting and developing as practitioners.
Over this year, we have been working on a project that brings these aims together. The result is The Competency Framework for Governance.
This model identifies the characteristics required for good performance in a company secretarial or governance role.
These characteristics are grouped into three areas in the framework – Understanding (knowledge), Practice (skills) and Values (personal and professional standards). In each of these areas a collection of key attributes or core competencies are identified which together, sit at the heart of good governance.
To illustrate how these competencies are applied in company secretarial and governance practice, the framework describes some of the behaviours that exemplify what the competencies look like in action at four different levels of proficiency – entry, emerging, established and excelling.
Those at the entry level work on process and research-led activities, often including administrative and organisational tasks that support the work of the team. Their activities are largely supervised by others.
Those at the emerging level are trusted to work independently on a portfolio of activities. They may take the lead on specific initiatives and may have responsibility for the activities of others.
Those at the established level show mastery in their work. They are trusted advisors and leaders, who exercise good judgement across planned and unplanned situations.
Those at the excelling level play a valued part in strategic leadership. They influence the governance agenda, are frequently consulted and actively support the development of other governance professionals.
These levels may map broadly to career stages but are not necessarily designed to do so, as the accumulation of skill and experience is often shaped as much by the particular roles and responsibilities that a practitioner has, as by their core capabilities.
In defining what an effective company secretary or governance professional knows, does and believes, and describing the behaviours that demonstrate this at different levels, The Competency Framework for Governance provides a clear picture of the role for governance professionals and those who work with them.
Developing the framework
Any competency model has to be practitioner-led for it to be credible and to reflect the reality of the role that it describes. The framework has been developed in partnership with practising company secretaries and governance professionals.
Our contributors included ICSA members and practitioners from outside the professional body, drawn from in-house teams, professional services and private practice. Together they represented different roles, sectors and career stages. Experienced recruitment and HR specialists also shared their insights in to how employers’ expectations of governance professionals are evolving.
“Our workshop participants also worked hard to create and debate the exemplar behaviour statements that bring the model to life”
The framework development began with a review of the literature. We evaluated our research and thought leadership on the development of the company secretarial role and governance functions, alongside the work produced in this area by universities and other organisations. We looked at the new corpus of professional knowledge set out in the revised ICSA qualifying programme syllabus, which comes into effect from Autumn 2019, and considered the latest thinking on business ethics and professional conduct.
Our findings were distilled into a prototype that we then invited practitioners to test in a series of interviews and workshops.
Our workshop participants also worked hard to create and debate the exemplar behaviour statements that bring the model to life. Once adjusted and populated the model was put out to a wider group for final consultation.
Putting it to use
The recent publication of the framework is not, however, an end in itself. It is just the beginning.
It will only create value for company secretaries, governance professionals and their employers by being put to use, and there are lots of ways in which we will to do this in the year ahead, including:
- Promoting it as a self-assessment tool for individuals and a benchmark for development reviews undertaken by team leaders and employers
- Referencing it in the development of new guidance for employers and team leaders, such as model role descriptions and skills audits, which provide a structured opportunity to explore if an organisation’s governance capabilities match its aims
- Informing the development of our training and CPD offer, to create a portfolio of resources for members at all levels of proficiency to support individual development goals and the journey from one level to the next
- Incorporating it into our student outreach programme by using it to explain the role to potential entrants to the profession, and educate their advisers.
The Competency Framework for Governance is available to download and share at icsa.org.uk/competencyframework.
If you have any questions, comments or feedback about our work in this area, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch.
Charis Evans is Business Development Director at ICSA: The Governance Institute