Executive Director - Do You Have What it Takes?
An executive director is the leader of an organisation. We also call them CEOs or managing directors, but no matter the specific title given, the role is essentially the same.
Executive directors assume Big Picture responsibility for the operations and day-to-day activities of their companies. They become the figureheads, the top managers whom all other managers must answer to, and the ones ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the organisation. Sounds like a lot of pressure? It is.
Being an executive director is no easy task. It is high-stress, high-visibility, and highly demanding.
In most cases, the executive director must answer directly to the board of directors, and it is he (or she) who must take their directions and turn them into actions that resound throughout the orgnaisation. So executive directors are implementers, policy makers, and managers of the widest scope possible within the company or NPO they lead.
If those on the lowest levels of the organisation are failing to achieve their goals, it is ultimately because of a shortcoming in the executive director’s chain of administration. Of course, that goes for employees on every level of the organisation—their shortcomings reflect back on the director.
What Do Executive Directors Need to Succeed?
On the most fundamental level, executive directors must have the skills and attributes needed to thrive in their positions. This can be a complex set of qualifications to pin down, as it reflects a combination of experience and personality that is difficult to define. But no matter the specific needs of the organisation in question, there are a number of qualities all executive directors must have if they hope to lead their companies or NPOs to success.
So do you have what it takes to become a great executive director? That depends…
- Do you have extensive experience (+5 years) leading multi-functional teams?
- Do you thrive in stressful work environments?
- Are you able to work efficiently in non-standard professional environments, performing a wide range of roles including PR, customer-relations, financial analysis, and sales?
- Are you a ‘people person’?
- Are you skilled at teaching, mentoring, inspiring, and motivating those around you to achieve more?
- Are you genuinely passionate about your company’s mission and purpose for existing?
- Can you adapt swiftly to rapidly shifting demands and juggle many different obligations simultaneously?
- Can you triage and prioritize tasks efficiently?
- Are you a confident, fast, and circumspect decision-maker?
- Are you an ethical businessperson?
- Do you communicate clearly and get your points across to others efficiently and accurately?
- Are you compassionate, understanding, and patient?
- Do you know your industry inside and out?
- Can you develop creative new ideas for pushing the boundaries of your organisation? Are you confident enough to pursue new markets, initiatives, and opportunities you feel strongly about?
- Are you able to justify your decisions and stand by your choices?
- Can you foster an effective culture of teamwork and open communication throughout the organisation?
If you answered yes to all these questions, you’re off to a good start. But even these skills alone are not enough to ensure you will succeed as an executive director. You will also need to demonstrate excellence in other ways.
Executive Director Leadership Qualities
To be a great executive director, one must first be a great leader, with the ability to…
- Develop a vision, mission, and strategic plan for the organisation
- Identify and assess the organisation for internal and external threats/weaknesses
- Professionally advise the Board of Directors on all aspects of business operations
- Be a public spokesperson
- Represent the organisation at public and private events
Executive Director Operational Planning and Management
Without an able executive director, organisational operations are bound to collapse. To ensure the wheels keep spinning smoothly, directors must…
- Craft operational plans that enact the company’s mission
- Keep clients happy by developing a result-getting operational plan
- Ensure efficient day-to-day and sustainable long-term working policies
- Maintain data security through adequate internal policies
- Support the Board of Directors with meeting agendas and relevant materials
Executive Director Human Resources Planning and Management
Human resources are a crucial aspect of the role executive director’s play. To keep personnel, colleagues and customers happy, directors must…
- Determine staffing requirements and ensure adequate support for company projects
- Oversee the development and implementation of organisation-wide HR policy
- Recruit, interview, and hire high-level staff
- Implement training programs throughout the organisation
- Act as a mentor to a wide range of staff, while also setting an example for mentoring and training that resonates down through the ranks
- Discipline staff appropriately whenever necessary
Executive Director Financial Planning and Management
Much of what an executive director does involves crunching numbers and analysing data behind a desk. So directors must be skilled at…
- Working with staff to prepare a budget
- Working with the Board of Directors to secure adequate funding
- Maintaining accurate bookkeeping practices throughout the organisation
- Monitoring and administering the organisation’s cash flow
- Ensuring tax and legal compliance
Executive Director Community Relations/Advocacy
As the face of the company, it is the executive director’s job to foster healthy community relations by…
- Personally addressing major PR issues
- Communicating with stakeholders
- Can you maintain healthy relationships with press, community groups, politicians, and other organisations?
Executive Director Risk Management
Every business must minimise risk and maximise profits. Unfortunately, the two aims often conflict so directors must manage risk by…
- Identifying and evaluating the risks to the company’s personnel, image, property, and assets
- Getting the organisation properly insured against all significant threats
Executive Director Salary Expectations
So why would anyone want so much responsibility, pressure and stress? The salary, of course!
- UK: £40,000 to £160,000 (with a median of about £85,000)
- US: $40,000 to $148,000 (with a median of about $70,000)
- EU: €40,000 to €503,000 (with a median of about €150,000)
So do you have what it takes to be an executive director? If so, you rank amongst the extremely few elite executives in the world capable of filling such big shoes. If not, it is never too late to acquire the skills needed to achieve your goals.