Working between the Board, the Executive and the CEO.
Taking on a more senior role can be highly rewarding but can also end badly for the uninitiated. Front line managers often find themselves acting or promoted into senior/executive roles, with multiple stakeholders, only to find their experience ends in disappointment .
As a safety professional that has navigated this area before I have drawn on my personal experience to create a short list for others who may be about to experience this for the first time. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Get to know what is important to your customers!
When you report to a number of stakeholders at the same time you must understand that each stakeholder has different needs. Don’t assume you know what those needs are rather take the opportunity to ask them directly. Some may say that ‘you should know’ however when approached in a genuine and collaborative manner most stakeholders will readily discuss what their personal aspirations, and immediate concerns are.
During this stage the most important ally is the CEO. It may come as a surprise to some to learn that the CEO knows more about all the stakeholders than anyone.
The CEO is already managing many of the relationships with these stakeholders and the last thing the CEO needs is a well-meaning member of the team raising different expectations or distracting people from the agreed message. Start with the CEO and you are on the way to establishing the right approach.
Don't get between the CEO and their direct reports! Lead with the CEO and their direct reports.
Planning should cascade down from the top!
After gaining consensus on the broad goals for the organisation from the executive, organisations often seek the endorsement of the board to ensure there is a shared vision and goals to move toward. By collaborating with the experienced executive members you will be able to flesh out objectives to achieve the goals which are aligned to the needs of the organisation. This will immediately bring confidence in your appointment at the board level.
The benefit of collaborating with the executive at this stage is these people know their business! They know their resources, the strengths and weaknesses of their managers and they know what lies ahead for their part of the organisation. If you start below this level everyone above will immediately question what it is you are trying to achieve and how you expect to achieve it.
By starting at the top and working your way down through the management structure as you collaborate with each level you will gain influential allies and supporters in each area. You will start to gain momentum.
Never ‘Wing it’!
You need to understand early on what you should be told, and by who, so if you are questioned you can manage the question appropriately. At some stage you may find yourself in a situation where you are the last person to know something in your space. People may assume you were told and therefore think you must already have 'the why'' and the follow-on action prepared and waiting. Don’t wing it. The person asking you the question will probably know more about it than you.
Do not just accept that you ‘should have known’. Process dictates who should have communicated what and to whom so understand this process early and improve on it in collaboration with your stakeholders so this is unlikely to happen to you.
Always keep the CEO in the loop!
I left this until last as it is probably the most important. Significant officers in an organisation, such as members of the executive and members of a board committee, will interact with you in different ways at different intervals. You must ensure the CEO is informed of anything that may arise as a result of one of these interactions.
When the leader of a board committee speaks to you prior to a board meeting or, an executive member is having some issues meeting an objective, the CEO must never be surprised with new information during a meeting. Similarly the board member responsible must never be surprised with information during a board meeting. Keep them informed after discussion with the CEO.
Your role may require you to meet separately with members of a board committee so you should plan to brief the CEO before and after the committee meeting. Make the time. It is worth every moment.
You must always remember the CEO is the main driver at this level. The CEO has interdependent relationships that you may not be aware of. By keeping the CEO in the loop you are made aware of how best to ensure you consistently drive the shared vision together for the benefit of all.
In summary, take the time to understand the needs of your customers and then work with the CEO to establish a shared vision with broad goals that the executive will get behind. Your most important ally and trusted collaborator will be the CEO. Pace yourself, work to the plan and maintain an appropriate level of communication and you will not fail!
I hope these few short tips help anyone about to transition into such a role.
Micheal is the Executive Director of C-Suite Safety Solutions and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He brings over two decades’ experience in working directly with key leaders from a diverse range of major global organisations; to deliver expert solutions in governance, risk and strategy that effect positive advancements in workplace safety.
Micheal has first-hand knowledge of the importance of safety practices, from the lunch-room, to the board-room, and the court-room; and combines this experience with a wealth of knowledge in fields of Business; Corporate Governance; Auditing; Industrial WHS; HR and Administrative Leadership.