In their shoes:
Cynthia Mora Spencer, ACG
As part of our 'in their shoes' series, we sat down with Cynthia Mora Spencer, ACG, who works for The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland.
How would you describe your role as a governance professional?
My role is not what you would describe as a typical company secretary role. The Institute is a professional body incorporated by Royal Charter which means that many of the compliance activities undertaken in a limited company are different. Nevertheless, good governance principles need to be followed especially as we are the global body representing Chartered secretaries and governance professionals worldwide.
At the moment, mine is a dual role looking after the board at the CGIUKI Division of The Chartered Governance Institute and looking after the Global Institute's Council where my main role is advising on constitutional matters. I am responsible for making sure the board and its sub-committees have the information required to make informed decisions.
I would describe my role as the bridge between the board and management. It involves liaising with a variety of stakeholders at all times, and I need to be always ready to respond to queries that in one way or another always end up with me. Having my fingers in many pies helps me keep aware of what is happening around the organisation.
This has been an interesting year for us all. How have you adapted to your role?
This has been an interesting year indeed! My role as every other role in the organisation had to quickly adapt to the changes to what then became 'the new way of working'. I was used to sharing my time between working from home and the office, but it all changed. I have been doing that for a few years now. Before the first lockdown, we had been trialling different ways of holding hybrid board meetings. In fact, some of the committees I manage had already experienced a few meetings held via videoconference. However, the board's permanent move to virtual meetings had to be accelerated. Although we got there at the end, I quickly became an IT expert specialising in Zoom/Teams helping everyone that wasn't familiar with the platforms.
As an organisation, we had to become more assertive and agile in planning and to develop a new way of working. Decisions were needed quickly, and there was no time for lengthy debates. Suddenly the planning of agendas was motivated by the need to be agile in a constantly-moving environment, so my role had to accommodate that.
The Global Institute had a hybrid AGM last year, so I had experienced some aspects of holding virtual general meetings. However, this year we had no option but to plan for virtual AGMs which was challenging but very interesting.
Would you say there is a typical day in the life of a Head of Secretariat?
There is never a day that is the same, not at all! Of course, there are reporting/approval cycles, and things need to be methodically planned, that doesn't change at all. But one day I could be dealing with disciplinary matters and another I could be fully concentrating on constitutional issues that affect different jurisdictions and perhaps discussing proposed changes with the Privy Council.
I could be asked to set up an urgent meeting, and I would have to make sure all papers submitted by management are what the board require to make an informed decision. There might be some commercial contracts to review, or I could be liaising with external providers when planning AGMs or the election process. Every day I'm in constant communication with the Senior Management Team and members of the board, the Divisional Chief Executive and or the Global Institute Director-General.
What do you think are the most important skills that you need as a governance professional?
Stakeholder management, excellent communication skills and strong ethics are vital to this role. The obvious ones like attention to detail, organisational skills and time management are also important. Still, I believe that being able to present in front of people, which in some cases (mine specifically) have got more experience in governance is also very important. The board expects your advice on specific issues, and you must convincingly deliver the information.
Do you have any thoughts regarding what those coming into the profession should know?
The development of soft skills is as important as the acquisition of technical knowledge. A company secretary or governance professional in every role should be a confident individual who can challenge and guide the board and the organisation towards doing the right thing.
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