Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Joining, working on and leading a committee – 13: committee chairing and committee leadership

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on February 15, 2012

This is my thirteenth installment in a series on committees, and on joining, working on and leading them (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 206-217 for parts 1-12.) I have written about committee and subcommittee best practices, joining and working on a committee and a range of related issues. With that as background, I turn to the issues of leading a committee. And I want to start this by drawing some fundamental points of similarity and points of difference between leading a committee, and leading a team or other work group as a manager.

When you manage and lead a team, or a line or part of one on a table of organization, you are working with people who all for the most part report to you. This may mean direct reports with people you directly oversee the work of, and on a day to day basis. This may mean indirect reports – employees who directly report to others who in turn report to you. This may mean more distant reporting connections and certainly where tables of organization include multiple levels of management and leadership responsibility. But bottom line, this means managing overall job performance and that includes responsibility, direct or indirect for performance reviews including those permanent employee record benchmarks: annual performance reviews. And these reviews and other assessments play a significant role in deciding career advancements and promotions, and in determining who to let go if there is to be a downsizing.

Committee chairs manage and lead the groups they work with on-committee, but they do not in general manage or lead them in this sense. Their feedback based on their evaluation of committee participation and effectiveness may go into determining how an employee of whatever level on the table of organization will be performance reviewed. But committee chairs generally only perform those reviews in a formal sense as coordinated with Human Resources if they also happen to be the committee member’s supervisor and manager on the table of organization too. And for committee charters that are complex and that cut across the usual work flow responsibilities as laid out on the table of organization, many and even most committee members may be drawn from different lines on the table of organization. And the members of a committee may include employees drawn from several different levels on that table of organization, as well as coming from different lines of it with the various skill sets they would bring with them.

• How does this affect how a committee chair manages and leads?

I have already intimated one key difference in earlier series installments. Committee chairs need to know when and how to negotiate with the managers who claim their committee members as their own table of organization-specified team members. They have to be aware of and responsive to the potential for conflicts and they need to know how to negotiate access of their committee members when they might be needed the most, but in more than just one place at a time.

An effective committee chair may very well need experience in several functional areas that their charter addresses or calls upon for its completion. But at the very least a good committee chair has to know how to work with specialists who have and use hands-on skills and expertise that they do not have too.

In a number of respects, committee chairing and leadership cal for the same judgment and approach as would be taken by a mid-level or more senior manager, and this brings me to a key point that is often overlooked:

Committee leadership, and particularly leadership of committees with complex, multi-function expertise requirements, can be a very effective proving ground for learning how to manage at a higher level on a table of organization. This can be a great tool for mentoring and teaching more senior level management and leadership skills, when managers with promise are being groomed and trained for their advancement potential.

And when a committee charter is of high importance and priority, and has to be completed or resolved on a tight schedule, budget or both, this can add specific evidence to a performance review that the chair is ready for greater responsibility and at a higher level in the organization.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to consider a set of issues that I suspect have come to the mind for most of the people who have been reading this. Yes, there are times where committees need to be set up and run on a very formal, structured basis. But there are also committees that would do better with a much looser, more informal approach. I have focused up to now on the former, with an assumption in place that formality and organizational structure can be shed and more easily and effectively if you know what you are not going to include. I am going to explicitly discuss complexity and need, and how best to position and run a committee on what can be seen as a continuum from small and simple to large and more formal, and why.

You can find this posting and others of this series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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