Five Skills for Divisional Directors

Large nonprofit organisations are organised into Divisions that are led by
a Divisional Director. The role of Divisional Director is not just managing
at a higher level – it is a distinctive role that requires particular skills.

  1. Take an organisation-wide perspective
    Directors have to learn to see situations from an organisation-wide
    perspective. Each director has to step into the shoes of the chief executive
    and contribute constructively to the overall management of the organisation.
    This may mean shaping the development of the organisation’s policies,
    helping to establish organisation-wide priorities or improving processes such as
    strategic planning, management information, budget setting and performance review.
    It may involve chairing a task group or representing the organisation in the media.
    Whatever the activity, directors need a clear overview of the organisation and its work.

  2. Think strategically
    Directors have to learn to think at a strategic level.
    It requires the ability to stand back from practical details and take a
    longer-term and more conceptual view of the organisation and its environment.
    This necessitates allocating significant time to reflecting, talking to other
    people about strategic issues and building the capacity to contribute
    constructively to the strategic thinking of the senior management team.
    This is not easy for managers who are used to being action orientated,
    resolving today’s crises and taking tomorrow when it comes.

    Directors need to make a contribution to the senior management team
    that moves beyond providing detail of their area of work. When they are
    equipped with this high level context, directors can discharge their
    responsibilities for the strategic development of the organisation.

  3. Understand the external environment
    Directors have to be much more aware of the changing social,
    political and technical environment around their organisation.
    Changes in social policy, of government policy and of party policy are
    important issues for directors. Such developments require adroit changes
    to the way the organisation thinks about its work. Directors therefore
    need to read widely and network extensively to keep their finger on these
    important external trends.

  4. Hold managers accountable
    Directors need to learn how to hold managers accountable for
    their work. In part, this is achieved by requiring their managers to
    prepare strategic and operational plans for each service managed by the
    division. A key role of a divisional director is to support managers in
    the preparation of their plans, to scrutinise them closely before they are
    approved and to use them to hold managers accountable for their performance
    in a regular and systematic way. Divisional directors discharge their
    responsibilities most effectively when they keep their eye on the overall
    performance of each service and avoid the trap of being pulled into the detail.

  5. Judge when to intervene
    Finally, directors have to judge when to intervene in a situation and
    when to stand back. Although managerial experience will help here, it is
    more complex for directors. They have to judge both when to intervene in
    managers’ work and when to delve one level further to have a hands-on
    involvement in front-line service delivery. Effective directors can use
    their experience to make a substantial difference at both levels, but they
    only have the time to get involved in those few decisions to which they can
    make a significant contribution. It is a mistake to intervene too often.
    ‘He never lets me do my job,’ is a common complaint and one that is often
    justified. Moreover, effective directors just do not have the time to become
    involved in the detail of all the services in their division.