How To Become A Non-Executive Director

As a senior executive at the top of your game, why not look for opportunities that allow you to share your expertise. Taking on a role as a non-executive director (NED) is the next logical step in your career.



As a senior executive at the top of your game, why not look for opportunities that allow you to share your expertise. Taking on a role as a non-executive director (NED) is the next logical step in your career.

Although NED’s are not a new concept, the rapid advancement of digital technologies has sparked an increase in the number of executives adopting advisory roles in recent years. It is not unheard of for NEDs to have several projects at a time.

If you’re contemplating progressing your career as a non-executive director, we can help. This article explains how to become a NED, which candidates are most suited, how you can best make the transition and how your duties will differ from other roles in your career.

Who is suitable for a role as non-executive director?

Regardless of your knowledge and expertise, it is rare for people to simply walk into a role of non-executive director. Although it is not unusual for companies to cherry-pick new members you should show the right attributes before applying for positions.

Companies want NEDs that can offer them specialist skills and knowledge. The qualities company executives look for in board members are varied but strong characters that are well-rounded, supportive and passionate are all winning traits.

NEDs have to be objective without being aggressive, arrogant and obstructive. Although you have an equal responsibility to make decisions, your role is to guide your fellow board members to making the right decision collectively.

The ability to scrutinise the performance of an enterprise is a given providing you can also provide strategic input that offers a solution. The best NEDs have industry specific skills and knowledge in a niche areas other board members lack.

In the modern age, NEDs with specialist knowledge in emerging technologies and digital solutions are highly sought after. Companies need to make the transition from offline to online, and existing board members are unlikely to have the depth of knowledge required to implement solutions.

Flexibility and confidence are also attributes board members may look for in NEDs. There could be occasions where you are required to give a keynote speech or public presentation. This can involve time commitments, a willingness to travel and overnight stays.

How do go about making the transition?

Before making the transition into a role of non-executive director, plan your strategy in advance.

Job sites the cater towards NEDs are the first place to start. They help to give you some scope of the opportunities available. You may also need to prove your worth to companies before being considered. It’s not unusual for executive looking to take on a role as a NED to start out with a non-remunerated role.

Not-for-profit organisations and companies in the third sector can help you gain a foothold in the NEDs market. Once you prove you have the skills and the aptitude to successfully fulfill a role as a non-executive board member, it will be easier to secure a paid role in a larger organisation.

Its not unheard of for leading executives to be headhunted and offered a position as a NED on a board. The key is to make yourself known in a professional capacity. Utilise social media platforms and third-party publications online to position yourself as an expert in your field.

Your networking skills will be needed to sniff out opportunities. It’s rare to find positions for NEDs advertised for listed or private companies. Furthermore, boards tend to seek new members that can offer the advice and skills they need at that point in time. Utilise your existing network and build new connections to keep pace of plans and campaigns.

Watch business trends and look at what other organisations in your preferred industries are doing. This will help you narrow down perspective targets.

How does a role as a NED differ to previous work?

NEDs typically make a living by holding positions on several boards simultaneously. This means you must be flexible and well-organised to keep the plates spinning. Your role will also be different from previous positions as an executive.

Your primary function is to provide constructive challenges and facilitate strategic decisions. For NEDs new to the role, raising objective criticisms can be difficult to strike a balance.

First of all, you do not want to come over too strongly with opinions and ideas that may annoy or offend established board members. However, you also need to show your worth as a valuable member of the board. You will not get away with sitting in silence and hiding.

Furthermore, it is critical that your decisions are not influenced by other associations. Use your past experience to inspire your decision making but always act in the best interests of individual organisations you are advising – especially when you are working for more than one at a time.

Taking on a role as as a non-executive director can offer exciting opportunities, work-life balance and a chance to share your knowledge. Knowing what to expect before you take the leap puts you in a stronger position to secure a role.

Looking for some further support to get your non-executive career started? We've recently published a non-executive handbook containing all the information you'll need from securing your first role to tips and tricks for establishing a stellar personal brand. Download it here

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