What types of board roles are available in Australia?

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Too many people do not consider the full gamut of board roles available in Australia when thinking about which organisation will value their experience. They often narrowly consider only the traditional governance roles, such as ‘non-executive directors, ’ and in doing so, overlook really interesting and fulfilling opportunities that are valuable in their own right but can also support a burgeoning board career. In this article, we identify the types of roles available and provide some advice on which ones might be for you.

The nine types of boards in Australia and their responsibilities

In my experience, there are nine categories of board roles. They exist across the Public (Government), Commercial (Public, Unlisted and Private) and Not-for-profit/For-purpose sectors. Unsurprisingly, each sector has different sorts of board opportunities, all of which have different degrees of governance responsibilities, risks and rewards

  1. Non-Executive Directors (NEDs): Generally elected by the company’s shareholders and are responsible for the performance of the organisation and its compliance. Traditionally, they are independent (though in a commercial setting increasingly encouraged to have ‘skin in the game’), removed (but still held responsible for) from the operational details of the business. These exist across the Listed, Unlisted, and Private Sectors.

  2. Subsidiary Directors: Are a mix of independent directors and executive directors. Like NEDs, they are also responsible for the organisation’s performance and compliance but are more performance-oriented and closer to the operational details of a business. These exist across the Listed, Unlisted, and Private Sectors.

  3. Management Committee Members: Also sometimes known as a ‘council’ or just a ‘committee’, management committee members are people elected by an organisation’s members to represent and advance their interests. They are usually found in smaller organisations such as not-for-profits and sporting clubs. Their role and responsibilities are not dissimilar to those of a board of directors, though they may also have a greater role in day-to-day activities. Most often, these roles are found in the For-Purpose sector.

  4. Advisory Board Members: A group of people selected to help a business owner with any number of business matters. They are usually unofficial (i.e., not made up of formalised company directors) and do not generally have the authority to vote on corporate matters or carry a legal fiduciary responsibility.  In rare cases, a large commercial organisation may engage an advisory board to advise the formal board. However, most often, his sort of appointment is found in private, SME, Startup or Scaleup businesses.

  5. Trustees: This role is very similar to a Non-Executive Director. You may likely see a Board of Trustees of organisations such as museums, universities, large government-owned public facilities, charities, and some financial services organisations. They are responsible for holding “in trust” the funds, assets, or property that belong to others and have a fiduciary duty to protect them.

  6. Sub-Committee Members: Generally made up of board members, but committees can also have independent members. The board retains ultimate responsibility for any actions taken by the committee. Common committees include an audit committee, risk management committee, remuneration committee, compliance committee, nomination committee, governance committee, fundraising committee, marketing committee, strategy committee, finance committee, membership committee, etc.

  7. Value Add Directors: A title given to individuals who have invested in a business and gained a seat on the board as a result. They carry legal fiduciary responsibility but not the same weight as an advisory board or non-executive appointment. Again, this sort of appointment is often found in private, SME, Startup or Scaleup businesses.

  8. Government Board & Council Members: These can exist at Federal, State and Local Government levels. In addition, there are Private Public Partnerships or State Owned Corporations. Boards here may take the form of a formal board, but they can also take the form of appointed advisory committees, commissions, or task forces. Nominating committees of government boards sometimes have criteria that they have to follow when appointing board members, such as appointing a certain number of government employees from designated agencies and others who are experts, advocates, or citizens. Some mandate that some or all board appointments require Ministerial or Cabinet approval. Members of government boards usually have term limits, which are staggered with the term limits of other board members. To be appointed, some boards and committees require Ministerial or Cabinet approval.

  9. Family Boards or Family Offices: This could be included in one of the other headings. However, it is worth noting that there are individuals who solely operate in this space. It would be true to say that these people often have the ‘small p’ political skills to operate in a heightened relational environment in which these boards of family members operate.  

I list these different types of board roles to emphasise that many sorts of opportunities are available, and, unsurprisingly, they require different skills and experience. So, regardless of the scale of your board aspirations (a paid, voluntary, commercial, government or NfP board role) and whether it is your first, subsequent or more significant board appointment that you desire, there is a board for you. 

It is important to ask yourself what type of board and board role you should pursue. The answer might surprise you and open up a wealth of opportunities that you may have never considered.

If you’re having trouble figuring out exactly what type of board role is right for you, talk to us. We specialise in helping people define and realise their board aspirations. 

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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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