Focus: Finance and Governance - Trustee talk - John Low chief executive, RNID; chairman, Acevo

A sound working relationship between the chair and chief executive is essential in any organisation. The two roles must be defined, with clear boundaries fixed, not just for the benefit of the pair but for that of all the employees.

Broadly speaking, the major distinction lies in the area of responsibility.

The chairman of an organisation is responsible for its strategic direction and for ensuring that robust systems are in place to guarantee compliance.

But that person should avoid becoming involved in the day-to-day operational issues and decisions (except in the case of small organisations with few or no staff).

These latter responsibilities fall under the remit of the chief executive.

Where trustees do need to become involved in operational matters, they should clearly separate their strategic and operational roles.

The new Code of Good Governance refers in more detail to the role of the chair. In terms of leading the board, trustees have and must accept responsibility for directing the dealings of their organisation, ensuring it is solvent, well-run and delivering the outcomes for which it has been set up.

Key to success of the relationship is trust. The chair must trust his or her chief executive to deliver the devised strategy, and the chief executive should, in turn, trust the chair's judgement on matters of strategy and overall direction. When trust is lost or missing, the relationship will fail.

Finally, a sense of distance is appropriate for the board. As James Strachan, my chairman at RNID, comments: "The executives create the initial strategy and broad directives, and the board then has the opportunity to polish them."

However, he adds that the bulk of the work is not done by the trustees.

Their role is to review, analyse, inform and shape - but not to deliver or oversee.

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