Governance Game Changers is a blog and event series that celebrates governance professionals who’ve broken the mould and changed perceptions. One such game changer is Silvana Glibota-Vigo, the group head of secretariat at Keller Group and a co-opted member of the board of The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland. Here, Silvana shares her thoughts on the true role of the company secretary, and why it should be a facilitator rather than a centraliser.
1. Be clear on what the role entails
Over the past few years, the role of the company secretary has evolved quite drastically, and so has the way it’s being perceived. More and more, there’s an expectation that company secretaries will play an active role as trusted advisors to the board — and it’s worth having a clear understanding of what that means.
The role of the company secretary isn’t about being the decision-maker; rather, it is about creating the right conditions for the decisions to be made. That’s a crucial job, because all organisations need an environment that allows them to make the right decisions, and to make them quickly enough. But it’s also a job away from the spotlight — one where you find greatness in the agency of others. So be aware that, if you want to be the decision maker, this may not be the right career for you.
“The role of the company secretary isn’t about being the decision-maker; rather, it is about creating the right conditions for the decisions to be made.”
The best company secretaries are the ones who embrace their role as facilitators. You’re not here just to collate board packs — anyone can put together some reports and call it a day — but to ensure everyone in the business understands why we create these packs, and what putting an insightful report in front of the board could achieve. Beyond the administrative aspects of the position, your true role is to help all the different parts and layers of the organisation — from the boardroom to the shop floor — talk to one another and get the most from each other.
2. Balance your duties with your expertise
Often, the board will be pulling in one direction, and the executive team in another. And because the company secretary’s role is a central one, you’ll find yourself in an uncomfortable middle position, feeling the pressure on both fronts. In that scenario, it can be tempting to take a side, but refrain from doing so — even if it seems to you that one of the two is clearly in the right. Your neutrality and independence are key to people trusting you, and you need that trust to be an effective link between teams.
“When the discussions veer into your area of expertise, you have a mandate to take the lead and share your views.”
That doesn’t mean being silent, however. There’s a growing demand for authenticity, and when the discussions veer into your area of expertise, you have a mandate to take the lead and share your views. I’d advise caution at first, especially if you’re just starting your career. But as you gain experience, develop a more accurate understanding of things, establish a reputation of seriousness, and grow the network of people who can back you up, you can — and must — be more open about what you believe.
3. Build a network that will help you whilst helping others
One look at ESG — and at how much it encompasses today — should be enough to convince you that the field of governance is expanding fast. And as the complexity of the role grows, having a network of peers that you can rely on to stay at the top of your game becomes less of a nice-to-have and more of a necessity. So, as much as we all dread “networking”, get to know your fellow governance professionals. You’ll learn much more by putting yourself out there and meeting people who face the same challenges than you ever will figure out by going at it alone.
“As the complexity of the role grows, having a network of peers that you can rely on to stay at the top of your game becomes less of a nice-to-have and more of a necessity.”
A network is a living thing. It will give you much — but only if you’re generous with it and dedicate energy to growing and nurturing it. Make sure yours includes mentors that help you progress, and that you mentor others in turn. This will not only enable you to give back — which is reason enough in itself — but will also bring fresh, new perspectives into your group, ensuring that you keep looking ahead.
4. Stay focused
As more gets asked of organisations, company secretaries and their teams tend to be the go-to persons tasked with handling these new matters. That’s partly what makes the role so fascinating — but it’s also a threat to what makes us effective.
Again, take ESG: we can certainly be the “G” experts — we’ve been at it for quite some time! — but we cannot be expected to be “E+S+G” experts. If we want to properly tackle such a complex topic, we need to work together with experts on the “E” and “S” sides of the equation — and not entertain the belief that we can be the one-stop-shop team for every new requirement.
“Historically, we’ve been quite bad at pushing back against scope creep, even when we weren’t the most appropriate people for the job.”
Historically, we’ve been quite bad at pushing back against that scope creep, even when we weren’t the most appropriate people for the job. The challenge for company secretaries in the near future will be to focus our role so that our expertise does not get diluted and we can add real value where we’re best placed to do so. Always with the right dose of energy and optimism — we shouldn’t underestimate the impact those two can have in an organisation!