In the best of all possible worlds, the chair of a board is chosen for his or her knowledge, expertise and people skills. But that's asking a lot of any one person. So as trustees we have to decide what is essential, what will help us function competently and what will keep us all motivated and working productively. And even that is more easily said than delivered.
Many chairs are talented and assiduous. They lead board meetings and oversee the development of strategy and the appointment of the chief executive and other trustees. Other chairs, if there are few or no paid staff, also take on substantial operational responsibility - often at no cost to the charity - and give a significant proportion of their time to the work.
The accepted wisdom is that chairs are trustees and first among equals. In my experience, chairs carry far greater responsibility and devote more time to their organisations than most members of their boards.
This is a critical time for the sector, with growing demand from service users and policy-makers. It is therefore essential to attend to the quality of chairing and the resulting improvement it can bring in board effectiveness.