If you are a company secretary, you’ll be only too aware that the scope of your role is changing – and has already changed significantly over recent years.
Governance has taken on increasing importance in the aftermath of the global banking crisis; a lack of governance was cited as a key reason for the crisis, and regulatory bodies worldwide have been keen ever since to show that good governance is high on their radar.
Often, this increased governance responsibility falls to the company secretary. A role that – as the ‘secretary’ part of the name suggests – was initially more clerical, is growing ever-more strategic.
In many firms, the company secretary occupies a unique role. Your broad and growing remit means that the company secretary needs to be someone who is comfortable leading the board on governance issues. Sometimes you may need to challenge current practice; not always easy when dealing with senior directors or board members. You are often required to monitor, and act as the voice of, corporate integrity.
You are likely to be privy to the board’s most sensitive discussions, and need to maintain a discreet presence in discussions regarding company performance, potential merger or acquisition opportunities and other confidential matters.
Where messages need to be communicated, you may also have a role to play in maintaining a dialogue between the board and your firm’s key stakeholders. It is often the duty of the company secretary to ensure that important messages on issues like corporate social responsibility, financial results and compliance reach the people who need to hear them.
At the same time, you need to be someone with a keen eye for detail and an appreciation of the need for accuracy. Your role almost certainly includes the effective management of board meetings and collation of board papers.
The wide-ranging skills and characteristics of a good company secretary include:
- Attention to detail
- Ability to exert influence at senior levels
- Business acumen
- Understanding of the regulatory environment and its implications
People with skills in both ‘big picture’ and ‘detail-oriented’ thinking can be hard to come by – if you’re a company secretary, you’re a rare breed!
With your role expanding and the demands on your time increasing, you need to make sure you can embrace your growing responsibilities rather than being worn down by them. A role that gives you more accountability for governance and strategic matters, and greater exposure to the board on important issues is one to be welcomed, not feared.
But how can you achieve this? Prioritisation is key. You only have so much capacity to take on new work; making some of your ‘process’ tasks easier will leave you free to focus on the areas where you can really add value to your board and the firm as a whole.
Explore the automated tools that are available to help you. Online board portals, for instance, can remove the leg-work from board pack collation, saving you time and money and enabling you to use your skills where they are most valuable.
The company secretary role is an exciting one, and will only get more so. To maximise the opportunities it offers, embrace the changes that come your way and capitalise on your rare skill-set to enhance the performance of your board and your business.
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