How to excel in your first NED role

Jerome Bull | 18 March 2022

The step into a Non-Executive Director (NED) career is a step into a very competitive marketplace.

Many make the mistake of believing that their successful career means they’ll be snapped up quickly. If you’ve held executive positions, you will have likely found that opportunities were coming to you. Whilst your past successes will carry huge weight in your ability to secure and deliver in your first NED role, entering the NED world means you’re the new kid on your first day of school.

We recently held an event with Andrew Hodgson, Executive Chairman of Recycling Lives Ltd, and Tim Cooper, Senior Independent Director and Chair of the Remuneration Committee at Renold Plc and NED at Pressure Technologies Plc, who shared their wisdom. From securing that first role to keeping stakeholders happy, here’s their advice…

Tips to secure your first role

  • Network, network, network – If you’re at the point of your career where you’re considering a NED position, you may think your days of networking are behind you. You’d be wrong. No one will know you’re looking unless you get out there and network. Ensuring your existing contacts are aware is the first step, but making new connections is crucial. Your current contacts are unlikely to be the gatekeepers to your next role.
  • Be patient – It’ll take time. Start the networking before you need to. Start thinking about what you can do today in preparation for when you’re ready. If you’re used to opportunities coming easy, ensure your expectations are managed.
  • Find your unique selling point – What are you good at? Why you? What’s your brand? It’s competitive so you need to be clear on what you can bring that others can’t. It’s not about blending in and aligning with the existing board but bringing a new perspective in. The board doesn’t need a collection of NEDs who are all hot on governance, they need diversity of skills and views to drive the business towards success.
  • Ask yourself if you believe in the board – Is the team in place a good match for you? Do their values align with yours? Most importantly, do you trust them? Trust takes time to build so you may not be able to answer this straight away, but if it’s anything other than a resounding yes after say six months, this is not the business for you. As a NED you are liable for their actions, so you have to be able to trust that they are doing what’s best and what’s right for the business.


Once you’re in, here’s how you can ensure you maximise your impact

  • Use distance to your advantage – Unlike the executives, you’re not bogged down in the day-to-day business challenges. You have the advantage of being able to see the wood from the trees so use this to your advantage to provide that strategic view that you have been brought in to provide. You’re not in the weeds and you should do what you can to keep it that way.
  • Play to your strengths – Unlike past roles where you may have to wear many hats, your time is limited – typically working two to four days per month per role. Ensure the organisation is getting the most value from you by focusing on the areas you’re expert in. Linking back to your brand, remember why they have chosen to bring you onboard and lean into those strengths. If it’s because governance is your thing, focus on that. If it’s strategy, ensure you’re giving them that. Your time is limited so you need to be efficient with it.
  • Identify how you can best support the CEO – …And the rest of the executive team. If you’ve been a CEO or in other executive positions, you’ll know the last thing you need is someone telling you how to do your job. Your role as a NED is to offer support and advice. It’s an arm around the shoulder of the executive team. You’re not there to say, “this is what you should be doing”. Remember how you wanted to be treated when you were in their position.
  • Offer a concierge service – What we mean by that is you are on call to support as and when you’re needed. Always be available to take a call. Issues rarely coincide nicely with scheduled board meetings so you should be prepared to be the team’s phone-a-friend whenever they need you.


If you’re an executive looking for a NED opportunity or you’re looking to hire a NED for your business, please get in touch.

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