Report on Chairpersons as Effective Leaders
Issued on July 26 2017
The Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) appreciates and recognises the significant roles being performed by the Boards of Directors and Management Committees of voluntary disability organisations within Ireland. These roles include the development of a shared and agreed vision about the key focuses and priorities of disability organisations; an overseeing role in relation to matters concerning financial management and good employment practices; and dealing with particular issues or problems which require the attention of the Board of Directors or Management Committee. In the opinion of DFI, the Board or Management Committee of voluntary disability organisations has a fundamental and vital role to play, together with staff, in ensuring the ongoing effectiveness and sustainability of these organisations.
In acknowledging the contributions being made by the Boards and Management Committees of voluntary disability organisations, DFI is also committed to ensuring that people who volunteer to sit on these Boards are provided with the appropriate levels of guidance, advice, training and support. Within DFI, we are aware of the more onerous legal and financial responsibilities of Board Directors and of the ways in which the size and turnover of many voluntary organisations has increased substantially over the last 10 years. In this type of context, we wish to identify mechanisms for providing greater levels of support to Boards of Directors and Management Committees of voluntary disability organisations.
As a means of assisting DFI to identify the key developmental, training and support needs of voluntary Boards of Directors and Management Committees, we set up the project entitled 'Chairpersons as Effective Leaders' in 2006. The aim of the project was to work with a cross-section of Chairpersons from DFI member organisations and, following a significant consultation period with these Chairpersons, to develop a range of proposals and recommendations which would serve to enhance governance and management arrangements within voluntary disability organisations in Ireland.
A total of 14 Chairpersons volunteered to participate in the 'Chairpersons as Effective Leaders' project. These Chairpersons represented a good balance between large voluntary organisations and smaller voluntary organisations, between organisations primarily involved in advocacy and organisations involved in direct service provision and between organisations with a national role and organisations with a regional/local role. However, in all cases, the organisations were providing services which were core and central to the lives of their service users, services which were not being provided by the State or by statutory agencies. DFI feels that the organisations which participated in the project represent a good reflection of the voluntary disability sector in Ireland and that the conclusions and recommendations which have emerged from the project will be of relevance to all DFI member organisations.
The overriding conclusion from the project, and from the detailed questionnaires completed by the participating Chairpersons, is that a clear need exists for more advice, guidance, support and training to be provided for people involved in voluntary Boards of Directors and Management Committees. Virtually all of the Chairpersons who participated in the project said that they had received no training in their role as Chairperson and that there had been no structured Board development work within their organisation. At the same time, however, they also said that appropriate training and Board development work (in relation to issues like policy development and strategic planning) would have been very useful and beneficial.
This report on the outcomes from the 'Chairpersons as Effective Leaders' project makes a range of recommendations in relation to the advice, support and training needs of people participating in the Boards and Management Committees of voluntary disability organisations. It is anticipated that the implementation of these recommendations will enhance governance and management arrangements within the voluntary disability sector, will improve the skills and competencies of people who serve on Boards of Directors and Management Committees. As an example, the recommendations concerning the establishment of a Resource Support Centre for Community and Voluntary Disability Organisations has enormous potential and relevance in relation to DFI member organisations. It is hoped that the recommendations will be considered seriously and implemented by appropriate statutory agencies and voluntary organisations.
The environment in which voluntary disability organisations work is changing dramatically. The National Disability Strategy, and its expression through 'Towards 2016', demonstrates the Government commitment to mainstreaming of services for people with disabilities. In addition to steering organisations through a changing services provision environment, there have been, in recent years, growing responsibilities in relation to the accountability of Boards. Now more than ever before, the governance of voluntary disability organisations needs to be supported to lead organisations through times of great change.
During a period of time when the focus of the voluntary disability sector, and DFI in particular, was on the policy agenda in relation to the development of the next Disability Strategy and its various legislative and administrative elements, we consciously have sought to engage consistently around the capacity building agenda for the sector. On foot of the development of policy comes implementation, and the latter is largely dependent on organisational capacity and sector wide capacity. Within any organisation the quality of analysis, judgement and leadership within the Board and between the Board and the senior executive is critical in two ways, namely, what objectives it sets for itself and how it plans to achieve those objectives. There is an urgent need to deepen the capacity of Boards and, equally, to consolidate the critical relationships which must exist between the Board and the executive in any organisation and I believe there is both a willingness and an appreciation of the value of focusing strongly on these governance roles and relationships.
With the recent commitments in 'Towards 2016' to the development of the Community and Voluntary sector and the launching of the Taskforce on Active Citizenship and the publication of its report, the 'Chairpersons as Effective Leaders' project, which focuses on the voluntary Chairperson and the voluntary Board, is very timely.
DFI would like to thank a number of agencies, organisations and individuals who contributed to the 'Chairpersons as Effective Leaders' project. We would initially like to acknowledge the financial support received from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs towards the project. This financial support is a clear indication of the interest which the Department has around issues concerning the management and governance of community and voluntary organisations in Ireland. We hope that the analysis, conclusions and recommendations contained in the report will be of benefit to the Department as it identifies ways in which it might best support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland.
DFI is also appreciative of the significant contributions made by the 14 Chairpersons of DFI member organisations who agreed to participate in the project. They all completed a detailed questionnaire and participated in lengthy interviews about a range of issues concerning their own role as Chairperson and the most effective ways of supporting voluntary Boards of Directors and Management Committees. The comments and the suggestions made by the participating Chairpersons have led directly to the interesting and incisive conclusions and recommendations which are set out in this project report.
On behalf of DFI, I would, finally, like to thank the people who helped to set up, to manage and to implement the 'Chairpersons as Effective Leaders' project. The two main people involved in the process were Stephen Rourke, who is an independent consultant, and Anthony Carrick who is a Support Officer with DFI. Stephen and Anthony invested a significant amount of time in analysing questionnaires, carrying out interviews and writing the final report. We are grateful for their assistance. We are also appreciative of the work carried out by the Steering Group for the project which provided valuable guidance and advice. In addition to Anthony and Stephen, this Steering Group comprised Allen Dunne (DFI), Aidan Horan (Institute of Public Administration) and Cora Pollard (Citizens Information Board).
I would like to commend this report to voluntary disability organisations and I hope that it will lead to new initiatives and endeavours which will enhance the supports available to organisations within the community and voluntary disability sector.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
DISABILITY FEDERATION OF IRELAND