It’s important to be open to different ideas – to see what works best in your circumstances Experiment with ways of developing solutions that are culturally legitimate, as well as practically effective It’s...
- Understand Indigenous governance
- Your culture
- Assess your governance
- Build your governance
- Your people
- Systems and plans
- Conflict resolution and peacemaking
- Governance Stories
- Useful links
CEO and managers
In this topic, we look at the role and responsibilities of managers and the chief executive officer (CEO). We also discuss the importance of separation of powers, and how a CEO and board should interact.
While reading this topic, think about the following questions and how they relate to your organisation, community or nation:
- What kind of management does your group need?
- What is the role of your CEO?
- How can your board effectively monitor and evaluate your CEO’s performance?
- How should management and the board work together?
Management in an organisation
Management is about getting, managing and using resources to achieve an agreed goal. These resources can be human, financial, natural, technical or cultural. Management follows policies, rules and plans.
Management in an organisation has many parts, but the core areas of ongoing work are:
- Organising – getting and making the best use of resources to achieve plans and goals.
- Planning – coordinating to achieve long- and short-term plans and goals.
- Motivating – inspiring and getting others to help achieve plans and goals.
- Monitoring – checking progress to see if the plans and goals need changing.
- Innovating – designing new options and solutions to better achieve plans and goals.
- Leading – deciding what needs to be done under instructions and delegation from the board.
The people who manage
Management also refers to the people who manage or ‘handle’ this work. We define management to include:
- the chief executive officer (CEO) – sometimes called the ‘general manager’
- the managers who report to the CEO – they don’t always have ‘manager’ in their job title.
These people have a critical leadership role in administering an organisation and supporting the board.
It is a legal requirement for corporations to have corporate officers like a CEO, president or general manager. Limited liability companies (LLC’s) have less strict regulations and are not required to have a CEO or other corporate officer, though many do.1“Does a company need a CEO?”, Legal Vision, accessed February 2023,[link]
Unincorporated organisations may have a more informal structure, and there might not be a board of directors or CEO. The unincorporated group may be managed by a steering committee, a group of Elders or community leaders, Community Working Parties, or a manager/management committee. Some unincorporated groups are governed by committees made up of CEOs and chairs from member organisations.
Depending on the size of your group, management often takes on a wide range of roles and responsibilities. It may need to use people’s intercultural skills and experience; that is, skills and knowledge developed from both Indigenous ways of doing things, and non-Indigenous ways of doing things.
Your group is only as good as its management, staff and internal culture. Everyone needs to be encouraged to work together to get things done for your members and stakeholders – any individual or group with a direct interest in your group’s actions or decisions.
You know the management of your group is strong when there is:
- a low turnover of staff
- no internal conflicts and factions among staff members
- high productivity
- effective implementation and reporting of decisions to the board
- clear understanding around the roles and responsibilities of management and staff
- effective policies, procedures, or evaluation processes to resolve these matters.
Use the following checkup to identify and analyse the biggest strengths and challenges in your management (PDF, 138 kB).
These check-ups are intended for self-directed assessment. They can be used by leaders, board directors, or group members who want to evaluate the governance and leadership of their organisation, community or nation. You can do the check-up on your own or as a group and then compare results.
Governance, management and innovation
Today, many groups are designing innovative ways of handling management work. Some groups are ‘contracting out’ administrative and management roles so they can get on with their cultural and community development work. For example, through auspicing arrangements.
AIGI’s research with organisations during the Covid-19 pandemic, bushfires and floods, shows that many activated a form of adaptive governance and management. This means they were able to recognise the need for, and assess, their self-organising abilities during times of uncertainty, crisis or change. Adaptive governance involves:
- awareness of and ability to cope with uncertainty and change, and its consequences
- flexibility or openness to change while retaining cultural identity and vision
- adaptive ability to modify, adjust and rework governing arrangements in the face of uncertainty or the impacts of disasters/crises
- agility in responding and designing responses
- learning from previous experiences of resilient adaptation, and using these insights to confidently plan for the future.
Certain organisations during the Covid-19 pandemic were able to mobilise and take innovative approaches to their management:
“…Over the course of that year, we actually changed our leadership structure a little bit and talked about ideas for reinventing organisations. And there was a model that appealed which has the organisation, arranging itself into more initiative or project-related clusters, and then pulling in resources as needed and so on. So that was a much more kind of self-governing approach to some of the administration aspects like, you know, leave and personnel matters during Covid. So the roles in those clusters sort of became peers if you like, rather than that sort of having that traditional sort of hierarchy.”
– Anonymous organisation via Zoom, Governing the pandemic: adaptive self-determination as an Indigenous capability in Australian organisations.2Lara Drieberg, Diane Smith and Dale Sutherland, Governing the pandemic: adaptive self-determination as an Indigenous capability in Australian organisations (Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Research School of Social Sciences College of Arts & Social Sciences, The Australian National University: forthcoming).
“…it was very helpful to have a sort of consistency of vision, of understanding of where we come from, our purpose together in the organisation, and what were the challenges we faced and how best to address those; And what all that meant for our strategy and so on and for the board. They were very engaged with providing whatever help and guidance they could, but at the same time, you know, giving the latitude to us to try a few different approaches and think fairly extensively about how to do things differently so.”
– Anonymous organisation via Zoom, Governing the pandemic: adaptive self-determination as an Indigenous capability in Australian organisations.3Lara Drieberg, Diane Smith and Dale Sutherland, Governing the pandemic: adaptive self-determination as an Indigenous capability in Australian organisations (Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Research School of Social Sciences College of Arts & Social Sciences, The Australian National University: forthcoming).
The Covid-19 pandemic raised many issues for Aboriginal people – most importantly access to food. In response, a few Midwest Aboriginal service providers in Western Australia banded together to deliver emergency relief packages to those in need.
Bundiyarra Aboriginal Corporation joined forces with the Midwest Employment and Economic Development Aboriginal Corporation (MEEDAC) and the Aboriginal Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (ABC Foundation) to contribute resources. These included cleaning and sanitary products, and food donated through the ABC Foundation’s ‘Food for the Mob’ program. The program organised, packed and distributed the packages.
According to Wayne McDonald, Manager Operations of Bundiyarra, around 800 food and hygiene packages were delivered to regional and remote Aboriginal communities across the Midwest and Gascoyne. These were delivered in the early days of the pandemic in 2020. They helped to combat isolation and further disadvantage.
In August 2020, another vital service in Geraldton also began. This service provided meals to disadvantaged Aboriginal people – including the homeless, large families, people with disability and Elders during the pandemic.
Bundiyarra’s Jennifer Gregory-Kniveton coordinated the project. MEEDAC, Geraldton Aboriginal Streetwork Corporation (Streeties) and Bundiyarra delivered the meals to eligible people. Each partner organisation identified their own target group and delivered the meals to their Aboriginal clients over a period of 18 weeks. Meals were delivered the day before pay day to make sure people had access to a hot meal during this lean period. This is a time when most households run out of food.
Wayne McDonald, the Manager of Operations at Bundiyarra Corporation, reported that:
“The three organisations have had calls from Aboriginal people in critical need, people in lockdown where there are no shops, they are not allowed to leave their communities, and they are running low on cleaning products, hygiene needs and food … Everyone pulled together to get food and essentials out to all our mob in the region. Bundiyarra provided the logistics, assembling the packages, and delivering to some communities like Pia Wadjarri, Kardaloo and Barrel Well, while ABC coordinated the 700 km round trip with their community partners Yulella Aboriginal Corporation near Meekatharra and Mungullah Community Aboriginal Corporation near Carnarvon.”
This extraordinary collective impact was the result of local Aboriginal organisations getting on the front foot very quickly. They did this by partnering, coordinating logistics, and drawing in NGOs to provide the sustained and much-needed delivery of food and covid-safety products to Aboriginal families in the urban and remote communities of their region.1Lara Drieberg, Diane Smith and Dale Sutherland, Governing the pandemic: adaptive self-determination as an Indigenous capability in Australian organisations (Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research,
Research School of Social Sciences College of Arts & Social Sciences, The Australian National University: forthcoming).
CEO roles and responsibilities
Your chief executive officer (CEO) is responsible for getting the desired outcomes from your group’s work.
The CEO is the only staff member of the organisation who has their performance evaluated by the board. For effective governance, the CEO must deliver on your group’s goals and create a well-performing workplace. To do this, the CEO needs to:
Understand and support the board
Understanding and supporting the board’s structure, roles and responsibilities means:
- respecting the rights and role of the board
- establishing systems that make it possible for the board to do its job – for example, making sure the board is the right composition and size.
Communicate the role of the board and management
Your group should have clear procedures for dividing roles and responsibilities between the board and management. The CEO should recognise and publicise these roles and powers.
The CEO makes sure effective procedures and delegations are in place. They should also make sure decisions and policies made by the board are implemented.
Encourage confidence, commitment and professionalism
- decides and publicises who is doing what job
- promotes capacity building and career development
- monitors and supports staff working conditions
- establishes a staff code of conduct.
The CEO should make action plans, manuals and policies available for everyone. They should also:
- promote success
- recognise personal achievement
- listen to feedback from staff and act on it
- build an internal culture that values respect, professionalism, inclusion, honesty, solidarity, and commitment across all levels.
Coordinate and lead the work
The CEO is responsible for staff performance – including resolving conflict and evaluating individual performance.
Develop a clear vision and goal
This means having regular meetings with the board and chair, as well as with staff. Meeting minutes should detail actions, review and follow-up. The CEO also communicates with and provides feedback to community members.
Plan for the future
The CEO should employ staff who are well trained and enthusiastic. They should also give staff access to training, leadership and personal development.
Manage finances and be accountable
The CEO should lay a solid foundation of financial management and reporting systems. This includes training for the board and staff.
It’s up to the CEO to make timely disclosures and manage risk. They should also pay management and staff fairly.
This means involving staff and board in planning and reviews. For example, if it is necessary to make changes to the organisation that might improve how it performs, the CEO should engage their staff and board in this.
Make sure staff follow policies and rules
The CEO should make sure staff and management know and understand policies and rules. They should ensure there are workable processes for implementing and reporting on progress.
It’s also important the CEO establishes and communicates complaints and review processes.
Communicate with the community
The CEO should communicate clearly and effectively with everyone. They should integrate cultural values and communication styles into processes. For example, by exploring innovative media and cultural language formats. This helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel comfortable in your group.
The relationship between the CEO and the board
Good communication, trust and mutual respect between a board and its management are essential for effective governance.
A challenging issue for many organisations is making it clear where the board’s work stops and that of the CEO begins. The partnership should be based on a clear understanding of what each brings to the group.
The board interviews and hires the CEO. The CEO is contracted to operate under instructions and delegation from the board.
The CEO depends on the board for:
- authority to function and manage the group
- governance leadership
- cultural advice and mentoring
- steering the future direction and strategic goals
- representing members’ concerns, rights and interests
- the collective wisdom it can bring to decisions and planning.
The board depends on the CEO to:
- exercise corporate leadership by building a successful team of staff and volunteers
- help make use of their time most efficiently
- provide sound information, reports, risk management and options
- contribute valuable input in policy making and decisions
- carry out the day-to-day management of your group.
Both sets of roles need to be performed well for your group to be successful.
This table shows the role of the board and the CEO in key areas of responsibility. To learn more about the role and responsibilities of the board, see Board of directors.
Area of responsibility
Oversees and reviews the CEO’s performance.
Supports the board to self-evaluate their governance performance.
Oversees and reviews the staff performance.
Sets the overall strategic direction.
Implements the overall strategic direction.
Makes and approves governance and other overall policies.
Supports the board to develop policies.
Implements policies made by the board.
Provides input into and approves overall annual budget.
Makes key decisions about major capital expenditure and investment.
Delegates power to make decisions to CEO.
Provides financial information, reports and plans for approval.
Operates under delegation for daily authority.
Makes decisions about expenditure and investment under delegation.
Provides input into and approves the business plan.
Develops and implements the business plan.
Communication with members
Seeks feedback, consults with and reports to members for decision-making and strategic direction.
Communicates with members and staff on activities, progress and outcomes.
Separate powers, but working together
Each role in your organisation has its own powers and responsibilities. This division of roles and responsibilities is known as a ‘separation of powers’.
Separation of powers means that power is shared between different roles, rather than concentrated in one area. This helps avoid abuse of power. Abuse of power happens when someone misuses their position of authority to take unjust advantage of others within or connected to a group.
People are a crucial part of a group. The specific roles and responsibilities carried out by each person are also very important.
A clear and agreed understanding of the different roles and responsibilities in your group – and a system in place to manage these – are key to effective governance.
Importantly, this is also an important cultural principle of Indigenous governance. For example, men and women each hold power and responsibility for separate areas of knowledge. Each group plays their part in the whole system of their group’s knowledge. Land ownership and the performance of ritual for caring for Country is commonly shared among interconnected kinship groups (moieties) and related individuals (owners and managers) who have separate areas of responsibility and powers. Each must undertake these in unison for the collective good.
Separating the powers of the board and management
Like a footy team’s coach and captain, the most important separation of powers in your organisation is between your board and management.
This relationship is ‘two way’. Fundamentally:
- management is accountable and answerable to the board
- the board is accountable and answerable to the members, and to the organisation as a whole.
This way, both have a responsibility to keep an eye on the other – to make sure they are doing the right thing.
If undertaken properly, the cooperative roles of the board and management provide organisations with strong overall leadership and direction, as well as protection against the abuse of power by one or the other.
While the board has the power to delegate some of its authority to others in the organisation – like the CEO or managers – there are certain responsibilities that the board may be legally required to retain. This includes evaluating the CEO’s performance, approving the budget or reviewing and approving financial reports.4“Principle 2: Roles and responsibilities,” Australian Institute of Company Directors, updated 30 January 2019, [link]
When your board and management cooperate, they can provide your group with strong leadership and direction. As well as protection against abuse of power.
The board and management working together
For your group to operate effectively, the board and management must work together as a leadership team. When they have the same direction or goal – and communicate well and regularly – they can give your group the leadership and direction it needs.
Major difficulties can happen when a board confuses its role and responsibilities with that of its management and staff. For example, it tries to manage the day-to-day running of your group.
This is like having the coach run onto the field in the middle of a footy game and take on the role of the captain or one of the players. Similar to the board, the role of the coach is to set the tactics for the game, and the goals and strategies for the year. Just as the board does for management, the coach makes sure the captain performs their role well. Once the game starts, the coach lets the captain and players get on with playing the game.
Challenges can also arise when management starts making policy or major strategic decisions without the board. This is like the captain taking over from the coach in the middle of a game.
Ngnowar Aerwah Aboriginal Corporation (NAAC) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here, board members Philomena Hunter and Janet Gallagher outline the different services NAAC offers and how the staff, CEO and board support each other.
Reviewing the CEO’s performance
One of the most important roles of the board is to interview, select and employ the CEO, and then monitor their work. This means the board must review the performance of their CEO every year.
This review is critical to your group’s survival and success. It should be included in key organisational documents – including the CEO’s contract.
As head of a group, it can be difficult for a CEO to get honest feedback on their overall performance and areas for improvement. A performance review is an opportunity for a CEO to:
- reflect on their work and relationship with the board
- request support, mentoring and professional development.
Performance reviews have many benefits. Effective performance reviews can lead to:
- less misunderstanding
- more trust within a group
- stronger working relationships
- lower leadership turnover.
They also help the board and CEO clarify their expectations of each other, and reinforce a positive relationship between the board and CEO.
Conducting a performance review
A performance review is a formal, face-to-face process. In this process an individual’s work performance is assessed against agreed criteria. The aim is to consider a person’s performance fairly and objectively over the whole year, and their potential for further development.
A CEO performance review should focus on identifying the CEO’s real achievements and contributions to goals and outcomes in areas including:
- corporate leadership and administration
- staff management
- relationship with and support of the board
- accountability and reporting
- external relations
- planning and implementation
- financial, asset, infrastructure and resources management
- business management
- fundraising efforts.
It should also consider things out of their control.
The review process should be informative and constructive. It should focus on solutions and areas for improvement. A review may include:
- what worked, what didn’t and why
- what aspects of their performance can be improved
- what support – for example, from the board or others – do they need in order to improve.
The board should get tailored training for conducting reviews – with the aim of designing a workable review process. This process should suit your group’s circumstances.
We’ve translated our extensive research on Indigenous governance into helpful resources and tools to help you strengthen your governance practices.
Subscribe to AIGI news and updates.