Who Speaks for Your Organization? The Chair? Or the CEO? At Random?

intentional practices oversight and accountability: measurement roles and responsibilities the board/ceo partnership Jun 27, 2022
Speaking for the organization


When I was an elected municipal councilor, few would know the name of the Chief Administrative Officer or City Manager, as the Mayor spoke for the Council and the municipality. We had no policy; it was understood.


When I was an elected school board chair, I, as chair, often spoke for the Board but the Superintendent was more frequently quoted in the press. We had no policy; it was confusing and confusing. And it pretty much depended on who was called and responded first.


When I was chair of a not-for-profit arts board, and having served on many not-for-profit boards, it was a toss-up who spoke, again often depending on who was called by the press or community member.


Should it be so random?


Only the Chair can speak for the Board per se. But who speaks for the agency or organization, and when?


The Chair speaks for the community. And for Board policy. And for values.


The Chief Executive Officer speaks for the organization. For its programs and services.


How do you navigate the gray area? By random access? By level of trust? By degree of articulateness?


There is, of course, no one correct answer for every organization and every situation. But the question was raised for me recently during a media issue in one community.


Who do you think should speak in this case?


Many local public libraries sponsor drag queen story hours today, for many reasons. Set aside whether you agree or disagree with this programming. (Personally, I do for reasons of inclusion, opening age-appropriate discussion by parents with their children, and so on, but that is beside the point.)

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The program was questioned by a residents’ group, loudly and publicly, in the press. (Sadly, this is not so unusual today. They simply need not attend, but I digress…)


Six libraries issued a public response. A statement of support. A press release.


What I found odd was that the six Chief Executive Officers signed the letter, not by the Chairs. Is this a programming issue? Or a policy issue? A service or a value?


I would have preferred that the letters be signed by the Chairs, responding to their communities on behalf of the communities’ representatives, the Boards.


Does it make a difference? I think it does. The Board represents the community, its values, beliefs and priorities. The Chief Executive Officers represent the organization and its programs. The Board Chair is a community volunteer, speaking for the community. The CEO is a paid employee, defending a decision.


What do you think?

Do you have a clear distinction, as policy or procedure?

I would be delighted to see it and share it! Join us in the private (and free) Governance as Leadership Facebook Group to continue this discussion.




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