Focus: Finance and Governance - Trustee talk - Linda Wilkinson Chair, Amnesty International UK

For organisations that have experienced rapid changes in governance and organisation, nothing is more critical to success than the relationship between the chair and the chief executive.

We all know stories of boards at war with the chief executive, the result being organisational paralysis. This is particularly prevalent in voluntary organisations.

In the four years I have been chair of Amnesty, the chief executive Kate Allen and I have developed a professional working partnership based on trust and honesty.

We don't always agree, and nor should we, but at the base of all of our dialogues is Amnesty's well-being.

One of the conflicts with an organisation such as ours is that because it's activist-led, you can get into the muddy waters of micro-management.

Along with our highly professional workforce, you can have grass-roots activists who think they actually know better. One of the things both Kate and I were clear about from the very beginning was that activists indulging in micro-management at the top simply would not be tolerated.

I have a history of activism within Amnesty, but I also have experience of management. I manage expectations from the side of the activist base, and Kate manages expectations from the side of the staff.

We meet regularly to work out how to use the energy and the ideas in the activist base at the right level to fuel the organisation.

We also give talks at our global chairs' and directors' forum about how we operate our working relationship for the international Amnesty movement.

We're seen as the two who have actually managed to pull it off.

Like all partnerships, it takes constant work to keep things on an even keel. Not friends, but never enemies. It is a difficult path to tread, but a vital one.

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