In any organisation, there’s someone whose job is to grab everything that falls through the cracks. To keep everyone else on track. For a sports team, it’s the Coach. In a restaurant, it’s the Head Chef. On a board of directors, it’s not the Chair. Not even the Treasurer. While those are important roles, they couldn’t do their jobs without the most key piece to the committee puzzle: the Secretary.
So what is the Secretary’s job, then? The Secretary is responsible for four major processes:
- Making sure meetings are organised and minuted efficiently.
- Maintaining administration, records and governance requirements.
- Upholding the legal requirements of the industry the committee is based in (charity law, nonprofit law, etc.).
- Thorough communication and correspondence.
So let’s break each of these down, and pretty quickly you’ll start to see why a committee can’t function without their Secretary.
The Secretary’s Role in Meetings
Meetings would be hell without an effective Secretary. The effort and planning that goes into a meeting is tremendous for all parties involved, but it’s the Secretary who plans the planning.
Secretaries will liaise with the Chair - and often other committee members - to put together the agenda, which will guide the meeting efficiently and effectively. They will need to send any required documents to participating board members before the meeting to ensure everyone is prepared.
The Secretary will also take minutes of the meeting and note actionable items, then edit and clear these for publication.
The Secretary’s Role in Administration
If it wasn’t for this aspect of the role, a Secretary might be better referred to as an Assistant - and in big business the two roles are often separated. However when it comes to smaller committees the Secretary is who keeps the machines of bureaucracy well-oiled.
Managing filing, keeping records, keeping diaries, and managing contact lists are just a few broad forms of the many important parts of this position. If there’s an audit, the Secretary will be able to quickly provide relevant documentation. If somebody needs to contact the printer of a pamphlet your association put out two years ago, the Secretary can quickly find their details and connect the two parties.
The Secretary’s Legal Roles
An effective Secretary knows their way around the legal requirements of their committee like the back of their hand. Somebody new to the role might be surprised by just how many of the processes of a board are required by law.
Elections must follow particular structures. There must be a custodian of the organisation’s governing document, and someone who holds the board to the stipulations of that document. Charity law, non-profit law, or if you’re an incorporated association, your federation’s laws, all need to be thoroughly internalised. Quorum must be met and tracked every meeting. The Secretary is a mental powerhouse, able to track and balance each of these spinning plates with ease.
The Secretary’s Role as a Communicator
This is the string that ties it all together. Whether it’s planning a meeting, contacting a supplier, or liaising with a legal entity, the Secretary is the voice that ensures the organisation runs smoothly and efficiently.
When board members correspond professionally, the Secretary responds if needed, then copies and files it. When a newsletter is published, the Secretary files it. When the association needs to report something to the public or the press, it’s the Secretary who pens that report. When the AGM rolls around, it’s the Secretary who has meticulously tracked and filed every action the board has done and compiled it into a report, so that everyone can clearly see the organisation’s position.
So next time your Secretary looks a little stressed out, just consider how many balls they’re juggling right now. It’s probably a lot, and they’re doing it pretty damn well. Maybe you should buy them a coffee some time.
They deserve it.