How to Define the Role of Your Association's Board

How to Define the Role of Your Association's Board

Boards and management of associations have very different roles, and it’s important that these are clearly defined to ensure that everyone is completing their own responsibilities. When the Board and the CEO work effectively together, operations run more smoothly. Blurred lines when it comes to the roles of governance and of management can cause delays and frustrations on all sides, leading to a less successful organisation and negatively affecting the ability to achieve the overarching goals of the association. 

Roles and Responsibilities of the Board

The members of an association’s Board, sometimes also referred to as directors of the Board, are a group of individuals who are responsible for the overall governance of an association’s values, mission and strategic objectives. Governance is concerned with future planning and direction. The Board take a high-level view and oversee major decisions on policy and performance, without being too involved in day-to-day operations. 

Some of the key responsibilities of the Board include choosing the CEO of the association, making major decisions about policy and strategy, overseeing performance, and serving as an external advocate. The Board is supposed to act in the best interests of an association’s stakeholders and work towards the stated mission. It is important that the Board is informed about all big picture matters so that they have a comprehensive understanding of the association’s progress and direction.

Board members are not employees of an association. They may be unpaid volunteers, or they could receive some renumeration for their work serving on the Board. However, they are likely to have other interests and roles outside of being a member of an association’s Board; they may have a full-time position for a company, or they may act as a member on a few different Boards (so long as these do not represent a conflict of interests). Board meetings typically take place only a few times a year. 

Roles and Responsibilities of Management

An association’s management is led by the Chief Executive Officer and is responsible for operational decisions. Management is designed to take the vision and mission of the association, as defined by the Board, and implement it in the most effective way. Managers, especially CEOs, have a range of duties and responsibilities that differ from members of the Board, and will be responsible for a team of employees.

CEOs are responsible for day-to-day decisions and duties. They are normally full-time employees of the association and will devote all of their time and energy to operations. This means that they are normally the most informed person, with an in-depth knowledge of the association’s status and performance. 

Executive managers are responsible for hiring all employees and managing multiple tiers of staff, depending on the size of the association. This could mean leading a large team and delegating work appropriately to ensure that important tasks are completed. Effective managers hire good people that can be trusted to excel within their roles and become subject experts on their particular area. 

The CEO acts as a liaison between the Board and the staff, communicating the Board’s expectations and visions to the people responsible for fulfilling these roles. Managers need to take the high-level strategic goals of the Board and convey them to lower levels of staff in a meaningful way, so that everyone can play a part in working towards the same ultimate objective. Managers also enforce any association policies that are decided by the Board and ensure that all employees are meeting the expected standards.

Balancing Roles within the Association

For an association to operate successfully, it is vital that the Board and management work effectively together. The CEO and the members of the Board should work in close cooperation, as the CEO is the link between the Board’s vision and the operations of the association. 

Both the Board and the executive management need to understand their roles and responsibilities within the association. Clear guidelines around these help to ensure everyone is playing their role in successful operations and that there is no confusion. 

The Board should support the CEO in implementing decisions and improving the performance of the association. Boards can also assist by using their networks within the community to further the aims of the association. It is important to note that the CEO is best placed to know the detailed operations of the association, and the Board should defer to their understanding about matters pertaining to operational decisions, operational policies, and employee management.

It is important that the Board’s role remain high-level and that they trust their CEO to undertake management responsibilities. The CEO is best placed to undertake specific projects or tasks relevant to the operations of the association. They are on the ground and capable of mobilising the team to meet a certain objective. They are also devoting much greater amounts of time to working with the association and therefore can act more quickly than the Board, who will often meet only quarterly. Waiting for Board input on small matters that are not high-level policy decisions and core to the future mission of the association can cause delays and frustrations for all levels of employees. This can have negative effects on the association and damage the ability to work towards the vision. 


If you need help with your Board and leadership, call the friendly team at AES on +61 3 8393 9382.

About the Author: Nick Koerbin (Executive Director, AES)

With over 30 years of management expertise, Executive Director and Founder of AES, Nick Koerbin is one of the most experienced NFP leaders in Australia. He has held positions as the CEO of Materials Australia, the National Parts Code, as well as senior positions in the Institute of Insurance, Australian Quality Council, the Financial Planning Association, the Australian Human Resources Institute, and the Furniture Industry Association of Australia. Nick created AES with a vision of creating a set of management practices that could be consistently followed to ensure success. Over his 30 years in the industry, he noticed that inconsistent management practices often impeded delivery of services to members, which in turn created issues with membership renewal. By establishing AES and creating the NFP Association Best Practice Self-Assessment, Nick has been able to assist leaders in becoming more confident and informed decision makers so that they can create more effective strategies and implementation plans.

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