How much time does a Non-Executive Director role take?

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You have established that a Non-Executive director role is the next big step in your career, but you are concerned you do not have the time required. The time commitment should not be overlooked. Being a Non-Executive Director (NED) – is time-consuming, especially in the first few months It usually involves much more than simply attending scheduled meetings and reading in preparation for them. But it is worth it.

A professional NED or Portfolio Director will usually have rather different working hours than those of a full-time executive. NEDs are not only expected to attend board meetings but to communicate with the rest of the board on a regular basis. Exactly how many hours a month this will entail will vary.

While there’s no set number of working hours, candidates can usually expect to devote at least a few days a month to the role. This time will be spent advising other board members, as well as preparing for and attending board meetings. A NED will be on call more or less all the time and may need to come in for emergency meetings at short notice. The workload of a NED will also vary. They might work several days non-stop in one month, and then just a few hours the next.

All future board members should accept their positions with full understanding that being a board member requires a real-time commitment – even in the age of Zoom. 

Let’s break a NEDs time commitment down

Preparation for Board Meetings
Board packs can sometimes run into many hundreds of pages. Reading these, let alone comprehending and critiquing them can take many hours. Even with short packs preparation time can still be considerable. A big part of the time investment of an effective NED is pre-meeting preparation, namely: obtaining board papers in advance and conducting pre-board discussions on the agenda. Depending on personal time-management abilities and the specific nature of the industry this preparation may take from a couple of hours up to, cumulatively, a couple of days as a one-time event. 

External ‘Board Meetings’
Many successful NED will say that the ‘real board meeting” is not happening during the board meeting. Instead, they will say that decisions are often made or opinions formed prior to the meeting and just ratified at the meeting itself. So expect a need to dedicate time to having these conversations. 

Even in our digital age physical board meetings are still preferred. Travel to board meetings should thereby be assumed. In many cases, this travel time can, cumulatively,  be as long as the meeting itself. So set aside time to travel – not doing so catches many NEDs out. 

Developing Governance Skills
As a NED you should be dedicated to continually developing your governance skills – both for your benefit and the benefit of the organisation you serve. A good example is that all Directors sign off on annual accounts, yet some NEDs are not that financially literate as they should be. That opens both the organisation and the NED to unnecessary risk. 

The board Meeting Itself
A typical board meets between 4-10 times a year and usually lasts between 3-4 hours. In addition, there can be AGM events or Strategy Days that NEDs should attend. If you are part of a sub-committee that meets in alternative months you might expect to spend another 2 hours participating here too.

Time, but more so passion is important

Taking into consideration the fact that a NED is likely to participate in informal discussions, coffee catch-ups, industry events, prepare vigorously and attend all board and sub-committee meetings, the overall time commitment might be 10 to 40 days in 12 months. 

Prior to accepting a position and being appointed, you should identify if there is enough time in your diary to review materials in meeting preparation, physical attendance of the board and any committee meetings, external team-building events and, maybe, even travel in order to fulfil your obligations… and many more. Rubbing salt into the wound the hourly rates (if you are paid) of a NED is often not great. For all these reasons passion is key. In my experience, successful NEDs are passionate about the organisations they serve. This makes the time they spend on these boards pleasurable. 

About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world

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