The role of the company secretary: Reflections on the ICSA Annual Conference 2017

Having had time to reflect on the ICSA Annual Conference 2017, a clear theme emerges for me – the company secretary role is much more than the glorified clerical role it can sometimes be seen as. This statement will not be a surprise to any of my fellow company secretaries, but as we know, the role is still not widely understood and is often overlooked.

To illustrate this point here are some of the things the ICSA Conference speakers this year challenged company secretaries to do:

Watch out for hubris

Look out for the development of hubris in the top team and deal with it before it damages the organisation. 

(Keynote address – Board leadership: the dangers of hubris by The Rt Hon Lord Owen CH, Chairman, the Daedalus Trust)

Make the most of your EQ

Support the board to be effective by being the technical expert but also by:

  • Having the EQ (you may be the only one who has it!) and character to stand firm against CEO/Chair
  • Being the snake hunter – using intuition to detect risks and do something about them
  • Looking for the elephant in the boardroom and dealing with it
  • Observing the boardroom dynamics and if you see something, bring it up
  • Asking difficult questions and holding the board to account where necessary
  • And doing all this whilst maintaining trust!

(Breakout session – Career development workshop: making the most of your EQ by Sharon Constancon, Chief Executive, Genius Methods)

Help with tension and conflict

Alongside the chair, play a critical role in the spotting and addressing of conflict in the boardroom which requires strong relationships, coaching/mentoring skills, humility/integrity, independence, discretion and EQ. 

(Keynote address – Boardroom conflict by Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of Governance, Henley Business School)

That is a challenging list and requires highly sophisticated EQ, soft skills, leadership and knowledge, which correctly applied will directly contribute towards effective boards and organisations.

A suggestion at how we might develop some of these skills came from the breakout session – Personal development: the chimp paradox by Aidan Kearney, Psychological Skills Mentor, Chimp Management.

This session suggested some self-reflection to understand why in certain circumstances we react to situations in ways we later regret, and reprogramming our brains so we respond in more considered ways based on our values.

To get the message across that the company secretary is not just a glorified clerical assistant we need to have the courage to deliver in the ways proposed by the speakers. If we do not have the skills yet to do so fully, we should be working towards developing and correctly applying those skills.

But finally, we need to overcome our natural humility and talk about what we really do, both at work, but also in our outside communities so that our role becomes better understood and receives the respect it deserves.

You can view the slides from this year’s conference on the ICSA website.

The ICSA Annual Conference will return to ExCeL London on 10–11 July 2018.

Lesley Ward ACIS is Chair of the ICSA Yorkshire Branch and an Executive Coach for Governance Professionals

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