Every Charity Needs: A Supported and Challenged CEO

Posted 12 Dec 2017 | Blog | Governance | HR & Leadership | Pilotlight Programme | Weston Charity Awards

In this blog in our 'Every Charity Needs' series, Project Manager Eleanor Thompson explores the role of the Chief Executive.

What does a CEO need?

The job of the CEO within a charity is multi-layered. On top of the usual demands of a Chief Executive – line management, operational and fundraising oversight, and strategy-building – the leaders of charities very often find themselves fulfilling the role of outward-facing flag-bearer, whose job it is to sell the story of the charity. Importantly, the CEO also needs to work with the trustee board on strategy. At Pilotlight, we advocate that a CEO is both supported and challenged by their organisations, and that this combination is crucial to the charity’s smooth running.

Who supports?

Everyone. The CEO needs support both from above and below. The board’s role is to delegate authority, guide, oversee, and support the CEO in the implementation of the organisation’s plans. The supportive aspect of this is more important than immediately obvious, because the Chair is fundamentally the CEO’s line manager. This extends to the wider circle of the trustees as well – Pilotlight often helps to bring about greater communication and understanding between the CEO and the board as part of our projects.

Although the CEO is the most senior officer in an organisation, in Pilotlight’s experience, support and engagement from the staff is essential when trying to move an organisation forward. An organisation is nothing without its people so getting input from everyone and working together as a team is needed to enable a change and ultimately to create the best impact possible for those it supports. As part of a project on the Pilotlight Programme, staff members are encouraged to come to meetings to fully involve them in the process; for example, the Finance Manager is the key person to have in a finances meeting, and caseworkers in a meeting discussing the impact of services.

Constructive challenge

A CEO doesn’t need challenge coming at them from all angles (nor, indeed, does any leader). Challenge is most likely to come when working on strategy – Pilotlight’s key remit. Ideally a new strategy has been put together with input from the whole charity (and is why 'Away Days' are so useful for both organisational and interpersonal purposes – Pilotlight can also organise and facilitate these). The aspect of pan-organisation challenge which might go into these discussions ensures buy-in from all sides when formulating the plan. With the wider picture, it is the trustees’ responsibility to constructively challenge the CEO on the direction of the charity, and keep debate going on any part of the strategy. How else do you refine it? Rome, after all, wasn’t built in a day.

Pilotlight excels in this, because the CEO is challenged by our Pilotlighters (our business members) who have a fresh perspective; they are not wedded to any specific aspects of the charity, as trustees or staff might be, and so can offer challenge neutrally and with good intent. All Pilotlight projects work towards the same goal of making the organisation more effective and sustainable in the future.

Working with Pilotlight

By applying to Pilotlight, your charity could participate in one of our programmes and work through these and many other issues. Support and challenge is part of Pilotlight’s method too, and at the end of an engagement in 2016, 97% of our charity partner CEOs felt their confidence in their role had increased. This, more than anything, shows us and all our charity partners that support and challenge both bring reward in equal measure.

Apply to work with us here.