Board/Executive Director Relations

Back to Table of Contents

Though the lines of authority, accountability and communication between the board, executive director and staff have been discussed in the previous section, it is worthwhile to look more closely at the board/executive director relationship. No relationship in the agency is as important as that between the board and the agency’s senior staff person. It is that relationship which can determine the overall effectiveness of the agency.

Though the board works in partnership with the executive director there are important differences. The board hires the executive director, sets conditions of work, and has the authority to replace that person. The executive director is directly responsible to the board and the board is legally responsible for the agency.

The executive director has real authority as well. This authority is a result of his or her professionalism, skills and ability. The executive director is perceived as the head of the agency. The board should recognize this and create a partnership that serves the agency.

To understand and guide the relationship between the executive director and the board, board members should recognize that their roles are complementary as follows.

  • The board is a corporation and acts only as a group.
    The executive director is an individual and acts individually, within the bounds of policy.

  • The board is a continuous entity; although board members come and go, the board endures.
    The executive director is temporary. Even if the executive director is with the agency for a long time, he or she holds this position at the will of the board.

  • The board has the ultimate authority for the agency.
    The executive director has more limited authority--that which the board assigns.

  • The board is typically made up of people who are not experts in the agency’s programs or services.
    The executive director is usually a professional, with expertise in the agency’s programs and services.

Job Description

A well thought-out job description identifies the executive director’s role, responsibilities and functions and lays the groundwork for a successful partnership.

The board and the executive director must reach mutual agreement regarding:

  • the major activities for which he or she is responsible
  • the factors upon which performance will be judged (quality, quantity, cost, innovation, estimation of accuracy, self-development and service to others)
  • how performance will be measured. It may be through quantitative measures or a series of statements describing the conditions which will exist when that area of the job has been adequately performed
  • specific minimum results or standards of performance which should be met in each of the areas of accountability

Performance Evaluation

It is the board’s responsibility to design and administer a performance appraisal for the executive director that measures performance against the agreed-upon performance goals.

A performance evaluation of the executive director by the board of directors should be done annually. Unfortunately, the performance evaluation is often not conducted annually and sometimes governing boards ignore this responsibility. Many board members regard performance evaluations as inherently negative. Board members should understand that a properly designed evaluation will not only provide the opportunity to express constructive criticism to the executive director, but also the opportunity to express earned praise. During this evaluation the executive director should also be encouraged to evaluate the performance of the board as it affects his or her performance and the progress of the agency.

It is important to remember that the performance evaluation process starts with a mutually agreed-upon job description that states the objectives set by the board which the executive director is responsible for achieving.

The board has a responsibility for ensuring top performance from the executive director. Board members can assess how well they are fulfilling this responsibility by periodically asking themselves the following questions.

  • Have we made it clear what is expected in terms of results? Have we discussed these results with the executive director?
  • Have we let the executive director know where he or she stands?
  • Does the executive director know how to do the work?
  • Have we done a good job of training and development?
  • Have we given the executive director all the support we can?
  • What have we done or not done to cultivate positive personal relationships?
  • Does the executive director know why his or her job is important, how he or she fits into the overall organization structure and the ramifications of poor performance?
  • Is the executive director kept informed on what is going on? (Not just "need to know" items, but "nice to know"?)
  • Does the executive director have adequate freedom in which to work?
  • Is the executive director too often put in a defensive position regarding performance?
  • What have we done to get the executive director mentally and emotionally committed to his or her job?
  • Has the executive director been allowed to participate in setting goals and deciding means of achieving them?
  • Have good aspects of performance received adequate and periodic recognition?
  • Is the positive accentuated instead of the negative?
  • Have we shown adequate concern for the executive director as an individual? For his or her personal goals?
  • Are we flexible in listening to the executive director and giving him or her an opportunity to implement ideas and suggestions?
  • Is the executive director adequately and reasonably challenged?

Adapted From: Project Manage, The Executive Director Search, Project Manage 1982

Early Learning and Child Care Program 210-114 Garry Street, Winnipeg MB R3C 4V4


Phone: 204-945-0776 Toll-free: 1-888-213-4754 Fax: 204-948-2625 TTY: 204-945-3724

Hours: Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m