Parmi Natesan and Dr Prieur du Plessis are respectively chief executive and facilitator of the IoDSA. Photos: Supplied
Parmi Natesan and Dr Prieur du Plessis are respectively chief executive and facilitator of the IoDSA. Photos: Supplied

Skills needed to build a career as director amid fierce competition

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 21, 2020

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By Parmi Natesan and Dr Prieur du Plessis

JOHANNESBURG - A new cohort of young, professional directors is emerging in response to an increasingly demanding role, but how does one set about building a successful career as a professional director?

Traditionally, a board position was seen as the mark of a successful career, the ultimate proof of having arrived. However, as the director’s role has grown in importance, and as directors have become personally liable for poor decisions, the need for professional non-executive directors has become apparent.

Professionalisation means that whereas once directors were appointed on the strength of the skills they had learnt in their own careers, usually focused on a particular industry, they now need to have a set of skills relating to directorship itself.

Directorships have retained their lustre as prestigious and well-paid, so competition is fierce. If you are looking to build a career as a professional non-executive director, here are some of the key steps you need to take to realise your dream:

Make sure you know what the job entails. Before you even begin, spend some time investigating precisely what directors do, how much work is involved and what the responsibilities and risks are. Speaking to a few directors will be enlightening.

Get the right skills.

The Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA) has long advocated the need to build up a pool of professional directors for companies to choose from. In that spirit, the IoDSA developed two formal designations - Certified Director and Chartered Director - that provide a structured path to obtaining the right skills within a competency framework.

Once obtained, the designation requires holders to commit to continuous professional development.

Know your target and what your “value proposition” is. Aside from specific directorial skills, organisations will also be looking for people with extensive experience and industry-related skills.

It’s worth understanding whether your skills and experience are particularly suited to a specific sector.

Aside from industry knowledge, you will find that certain hard and soft skills will be valuable in any sector. Some examples would include a high level of financial literacy, an above-average understanding of how technology impacts business and where it is going, as well as soft skills like the ability to build teams and understand competing points of view.

Many aspirant directors also invest time in identifying specific organisations on whose boards they want to serve, and then assess what skills their current boards might lack. This kind of assessment would guide many of the actions taken in regard to the nine steps.

It’s worth remembering that 15 percent of board appointments are the result of a direct approach to a company or board on which the aspirant director wanted to serve. One can be certain those approaches were successful because they were founded on a clear understanding of what the board’s needs were and the applicant’s ability to meet them.

Get the right experience. Experience remains important and aspirant directors must consciously set out to create a track record that complements their qualifications. One good way to do this is to volunteer to serve on the boards of non-profits, school governing bodies and the like.

Build personal contacts. Sixty-five percent of people are appointed to a board via a personal connection - need we say more? Joining a professional body like the IoDSA is a good way to build your profile within the director community.

Monitor position availability. Aside from personal contacts, other avenues to board appointments include using a recruiter (10percent) and responding to an advertisement (10percent). The IoDSA advertises some current positions to its members, and various media outlets also advertise such positions. Maintain a director’s CV. We all know that a carefully crafted CV continues to play a big role in any appointment process so make sure yours effectively positions you as director material and is fit for the purpose of a board role.

Hone your interview skills. The culmination of all your efforts will be an interview with the Nominations Committee or whoever is tasked with compiling a shortlist of candidates.

Design and build a personal brand. Creating a personal brand that fits your directorial ambitions will underpin all your efforts in terms of the above points.

A personal brand creates a way to communicate your essential value proposition easily and memorably, and sets you apart from others. Working with a professional brand coach makes a lot of sense, because this is something that needs to be got right.

Directorship can be an extremely fulfilling and exciting career. Make sure yours gets off to a running start.

Parmi Natesan and Dr Prieur du Plessis are respectively chief executive and facilitator of the IoDSA; email: [email protected]

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