Leeds Business School

Navigating Tomorrow: Unveiling the Evolving Role of Chartered Secretaries in Organisational Governance

David Lock is Secretary General of the Magna Charta Observatory and a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (WCCSA), the later one of the modern livery companies of the City of London. Additionally, he is honoured as a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (now CGI). Through this link David has a strong connection to Leeds Business School's MSc Corporate Governance; he passionately advocates for universities worldwide to embrace autonomy and uphold academic freedom while fulfilling their responsibilities to stakeholders and adhering to legal obligations.

His blog “Navigating Tomorrow: Unveiling the Evolving Role of Chartered Secretaries in Organisational Governance” highlights the crucial role an informed company secretary can play in shaping good corporate value and conduct.

Published on 29 Apr 2024
David Lock

The term 'Secretary' finds its roots in the Latin 'secretum,' meaning 'a secret, a hidden thing,' and later evolved from 'silentiarius,' signifying a 'privy councillor.' This linguistic journey unveils the profound significance of a chartered secretary's role, one that encompasses substantial legal obligations intertwined with the delicate requirement for diplomatic finesse.

The Trusted Custodian and Critical Friend

The person holding the post is therefore trusted with the most important and confidential information about the organisation. Charged with the meticulous governance of daily operations, the incumbent in this position becomes the custodian of the organization's most confidential affairs, underscoring the gravity and trust inherent in their responsibilities.

Most usually, a Chartered Secretary is placed in charge of the governance function of the organisation. The term governance can be traced back to the late 13th Century and means, "to rule with authority," which derives from Old French governer "to steer, be at the helm of; rule, command, direct" to which the term 'guide' was later added. Its origin is nautical, borrowing from Greek kybernan "to steer or pilot a ship, direct as a pilot."

It follows that the key personal elements needed to be successful in the role of Chartered Secretary or governance professional are trust, awareness, sensitivity, judgement, confidence, engagement and the ability to enable the organisation to be successful in a way that has integrity and aligns with the law and the values of the organisation.

Guiding the Ship: The Vital Role of the Company Secretary Leadership – “Strategic and Daily”

To fulfil the role, Chartered Secretaries need to have an understanding of all the elements of the organisation or business and the environment in which they work. So, law, IT, compliance, data, HR, strategy etc. They don't need to be experts in all of them, just to have a sufficiently good understanding to know what questions to ask and when to get professional help, so as to guide the Board and strategy reliably.

This leads to a career which is extremely interesting, engaging, worthwhile and satisfying.

Rapid Career Development

People entering the profession can progress quickly. In more senior roles the breadth is greater, as is the involvement with external stakeholders and society.

The variety of the work is enormous. From ensuring the proper conduct of governance to developing strategies to crisis management, the Chartered Secretary is at the centre of most of what matters. No two days are the same. Each situation is novel and professionally enriching.

Because the governance and secretarial functions are necessary in all types of organisations - for profit, not for profit, government, health, military, education and charities - there is the opportunity to move into another sector for personal enrichment should one's values or interests change during life.

Empowering Governance: The Role of Company Secretaries in Advancing Ethical Strategic Foresight for Effective Decision Making

In fostering the cultivation of futures thinking, the Company Secretary plays a crucial role within an organisation, facilitating the incorporation of global benchmarks, best practices, and methodologies to enhance strategic foresight in governance policymaking.

This involves guiding decision-making processes through clearly defined stages aimed at embedding strategic foresight into boardroom discussions. For example, this could entail assisting in framing strategic foresight by defining its essential components within governance frameworks, facilitating nimble foresight interventions customised to particular contexts and requirements, and promoting open, constructive dialogues to address unique policy and strategic hurdles.

Unveiling the Leadership Journey of the Company Secretary

In the day-to-day operations of the board, the Company Secretary offers a calm and informed perspective. They not only aid in the resolution of conflict but also foster an active environment for problem-solving. By promoting cooperation and coordination, they facilitate the generation of deeper insights, guiding the board towards the optimal path when confronted with significant decisions.

To enable this, the Company Secretary must cultivate an independent and discerning mindset, assuming a subtle leadership role as a facilitator. This involves guiding board members to align their collective values, thereby fostering a highly effective decision-making team capable of making ethical judgments for the betterment of the company and society as a whole.

The Board's Governance and Moral Compass

Hence, for those with the necessary personal qualities, integrity, and ambition to enable an organisation to be successful, the role of Chartered Secretary or 'head of governance' provides a worthwhile and fulfilling career - one which has and still does give me enormous satisfaction and pleasure. Further as the world's complexities and challenges escalate, the significance of this role of company secretary intensifies, underscoring its critical importance.

For more information about the MSc Corporate Governance course at Leeds Beckett University, please visit our online prospectus.

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Dr Nick Beech

Course Director / Leeds Business School

Nick’s expertise is in the areas of leadership, coaching, governance and boardroom behaviours. He has a wealth of experience having worked with a wide range of organisations across the private, public and voluntary sectors. An accomplished entrepreneur, having sound local and international experience and is an inspiring organisational change agent.

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