If you’re one of the more than 250,000 trustees in Scotland, you’ll know that good governance is vital to the success and sustainability of your organisation. That’s why this week sees the launch of the new Scottish Governance Code for the Third Sector. One of the five principles of the Code is Leadership, because without good leaders, you can’t have great governance.
On a board the trustees are there to lead and provide strategic direction in line with the organisation’s purpose, vision and values. Trustees need to set the vision for the organisation and direct it in a way that will achieve its organisational aims. There are many different tasks associated with being a trustee, and some trustees have specific roles such as Chair, Secretary or Treasurer But each trustee has equal legal and financial responsibility on the board and it’s important that all trustees know that they are in charge, and they collectively have ultimate responsibility for making sure the organisation is properly run.
That’s a big ask…so trustees need to have a clear understanding of both their individual and collective role and responsibilities as leaders. If things go wrong, it’s the trustees that will be called to account. They need to be aware of this and act in the best interests of the organisation and its beneficiaries, following all the requirements of law and regulation.
But good leadership is about more than knowing your role and responsibilities as a trustee. It’s also about setting the tone through behavior, performance, and creating a positive and inclusive culture where equality and diversity are promoted. Trustees need to ‘walk the talk’ and ensure that the vision and values of their organization underpin all their decisions and activities. Open communication is vital, with staff, volunteers and members, and it’s important to listen to feedback, involve stakeholders in your work, and clarify boundaries and expectations.
Finally, a vital part of good leadership as a trustee in a third sector organisation is to understand and respect the difference between governance andoperations Sometimes, particularly in smaller organisations without staff, this can become confused, leading to all sorts of problems. A good starting point for any board to recognise and remember is that trustees can delegate operational tasks where appropriate, but responsibility and accountability is always retained by the board. If the organisation has paid staff it’s important to be clear about separate roles and responsibilities, and legal liabilities. There should be policies and procedures on delegated decision-making and tasks. The lines between governance and management are easily blurred, but the broad difference is that governance is about strategy and long-term plans and priorities, and management is about day to day operations and delivery.
Scotland’s third sector trustees provide fantastic leadership, and their work and contribution should be celebrated in Trustees Week. They provide a means of maintaining and strengthening public confidence in the integrity and reputation of all the third sector.