Last week at the NHS Providers' company secretaries network we had a fascinating discussion reflecting on where we all came from and what had brought us to the positions we have in our organisations.
I was particularly struck by the range of backgrounds and mix of skills that colleagues bought to the role of company secretary in NHS trusts and foundation trusts. It is clear that there was no set formula for the perfect company secretary, this leads to a series of questions about the nature of the role, and the differences in how it is performed and recruited to across the sector.
The session had been inspired by feedback from previous network meetings where we had noted the differences within the role across the sector. The session aimed to provide some understanding of these differences and what this meant for succession planning.
We conducted a poll with attendees which painted an interesting picture of the the diversity of our backgrounds, the mystique of the role and whether it was sustainable for the sector. It raised some thought-provoking questions around our backgrounds , how we are valued and whether there should be some form of career structure.
We conducted a poll with attendees which painted an interesting picture of the diversity of our backgrounds, the mystique of the role and whether it was sustainable for the sector. It raised some thought-provoking questions around our backgrounds, how we are valued and whether there should be some form of career structure.Trust secretary
How should we answer the chair or chief executive’s question of: ‘Where do I find my senior corporate governance person’? Based on what we found, the best answer would be to cast a wide net by looking across many disciplines, accept many qualifications, but perhaps most importantly, understand what you need and what a good company secretary can do for you.
In the straw poll of around 60 delegates we found that five had a legal background, two had a clinical background, 15 had a local authority background, 10 had a governance background, eight a commercial company secretary background, 19 others had a range of backgrounds from human resources, general management, bank and building societies, accountancy, audit and project management.
Qualifications were also varied with 14 having a full ICSA qualification, 14 holding ICSA NHS modules, three with company secretary qualifications from other awarding bodies and 23 holding Masters in a broad range of sectors including healthcare risk management, public sector management, social policy, healthcare policy and organisation, armed forces staff college and law. This is unique to almost every other functional role in the NHS where a standard pathway of training, qualifications and registration exists.
When asked about organisational status in their trust a quarter considered they were part of the top team and a trusted advisor, 10 felt they were seen as part of the back room services and 38 felt that it was a combination of being part of the top team and provider of back room services.
Later in the day we tried to identify the key competencies and abilities needed in a company secretary. We found this varied from being a trusted adviser to resilience, flexibility, integrity and the ability to manage effectively. Particularly enlightening responses included knowing the difference between when a situation is messy and when it is wrong and when to take action accordingly.
In groups, network members discussed where they would recruit their next company secretary from. Many of them felt it was important to recruit for values. There is value in developing someone internally but you are often in small teams and the jump from deputy to company secretary would be too great for some people. Company secretary job descriptions often only describe the standard skills and qualifications for any company secretary role – it is important for individual trust boards to really consider what they are looking for – for example, skills in diplomacy, political nous etc., and reflect these in the job description and in the way skills are tested at interview.
Company secretary job descriptions often only describe the standard skills and qualifications for any company secretary role – it is important for individual trust boards to really consider what they are looking for – for example, skills in diplomacy, political nous etc., and reflect these in the job description and in the way skills are tested at interview.Trust secretarytweet this
So where next from here? As the network chair I think more work is needed to look into the role of the trust company secretary. We need to take a more holistic look at the range of duties, the skill sets, the remuneration rates and how we could support and develop the skills needed through a structured programme. This work could provide a more robust and sustainable understanding of the role and potentially the development of a transparent career pathway. Finding ways to retain the diversity of entry routes and establish standards of practice would secure stronger governance and better provision of services across the sector. I would welcome views on how we could progress this work.
Peter Howie is the chair of the NHS Providers company secretary network. If you would like to join the network please log in to the website and register your interest or email our networks and membership coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org.