Published: 14/04/2005, Volume II5, No. 5951 Page 36

There is no bigger factor in effective board governance than the leadership qualities of the chair. But what do we know about what makes an effective chair?

This question was explored by the Change Partnership in a survey of 215 directors of FTSE 350 companies, large public sector organisations and private equity companies which between them had experience of working on nearly 800 boards.

Requirements for the chair related to setting and maintaining the right tone at board level, and included:

achieving a constructive working relationship with the chief executive;

achieving openness on the board and ensuring board meetings are open to challenge and debate;

regularly reviewing the performance of individual directors and the board.

The first characteristic has been explored in another study, Chairing the Trust...Trusting the Chair, by Saxton Bampfylde Hever. The executive search firm talked to 44 trust chief executives. They rated sensitivity to the boundary between the non-executive role of the chair and the executive responsibilities of the chief executive as most important.

Many of the chief executives spoke of the value of having a relationship with their chair that enabled them to be challenged without feeling threatened.

Other important qualities were trustworthiness, wisdom, breadth of view and an ability to handle the politics.

The Welsh Assembly is also adding its voice. next week it will publish Setting the Direction, a practical overview of working at board level, including an outline of the behaviours that chairs need to demonstrate.

Dr Jay Bevington is associate director of the NHS Clinical Governance Support Team's board development team.

To find out more about Setting the Direction call Christine Bamford on 02920-821 617.