Reflections of a new chair of the board

From Citizen Advocacy News (Citizen Advocacy NSW Association), January 1999, pp. 8-9


This year, Walter Kaan stepped down as chair of the board of Illawarra Citizen Advocacy (ICA) because he was leaving Wollongong at the end of the year. The others on the board with years of experience each had personal reasons for not wanting to become chair. So in August I was elected to the position, just a year after joining the board and having first heard about citizen advocacy.

One reason I agreed to be chair was that I knew there was a lot of energy and support from staff and other board members. That makes things a lot easier. Another reason is that ICA is running very efficiently and harmoniously. Every organisation has its internal problems, to be sure, but some have more than others. Compared to some of the challenges I've encountered in Whistleblowers Australia, ICA is an idyllic haven from strife!

In planning for the role, I wrote down specific tasks for the chair:

Then I wrote down some ways I wanted to develop my own skills:

Finally, I wrote down some general goals I hoped to achieve as chair:

Others would write down somewhat different lists for tasks, skill development and goals, naturally enough. I find it helpful to make lists like this to clarify in my mind what's involved, and then to refer back to the lists from time to time to check priorities. Also, the lists can be updated as skills are developed and goals achieved.

This was all helped by the board learning event with Zana Lutfiyya, attended by several of us from ICA, which triggered some ideas, such as mentoring of new board members.

To try to make board meetings more enjoyable and effective, we've made a few changes to our meeting agenda. The coordinator's report now goes first, since it deals with the heart of the program: protégés and advocates. Then we have, as usual, half an hour on "learning and renewal", to improve board members' understanding of citizen advocacy and its principles. We agreed that a different board member will have responsibility for the learning and renewal activity each month. Only after this do we deal with "business" such as minutes, the financial report and the like. Putting these items later in the meeting ensures that we cover the most important things first, while we're fresh.

Not long after taking over as chair, ICA was faced with a standards audit by the Department of Health and Family Services. This involved a fair bit of work going through policies and liaising with the audit team. Thankfully, the audit went very well. The audit team was quite impressed that at their session to talk to board members, nearly every member of our board attended.

No doubt there will be other challenges ahead. Chairing the board carries a certain responsibility, but then so should every board position. I try to keep my mind around it by attending to specific tasks, developing my skills and keeping some goals in mind. Perhaps the most important thing is to always be mindful of the ultimate goal, which is meeting the needs of people with intellectual disabilities.


Brian Martin, Chair, Illawarra Citizen Advocacy

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