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The skills and competencies that you bring to a board role will vary based on your own personal background and experience, the type of board you will be serving, and the qualities and competencies of other board members.

“It's very important to understand what skills and perspectives are represented on the board, and what strategic gaps you are expected to fill when invited to serve,” says Laurie Benson, CEO and entrepreneur. “What are those gaps that it's been determined that you could fill?”

How to find out? Ask!

Benson recalls that when asked to serve on her first corporate board since she sold her business, she asked the CEO, “Why, specifically, are you asking me to serve on your board?” His response: “In 20 years of inviting people to serve, no one has ever asked why they were selected.”

Here is a look at some of the key skills required to serve effectively as a productive member of a board.


Make sure to gain clarity as to why you are being asked to serve and what key competencies you can bring forward.


Strong communication skills are a must-have for anyone considering a board role. But many nurses are challenged here, says Gladys Campbell, CNE and clinical strategist. “I think nurses often struggle to communicate effectively with non-nurses when we are in our professional roles. It is often a huge barrier for us. Over and over, I have seen nurses who get that seat at the table; and then while sitting on the board, they do not speak. A nurse who does not contribute while in a board role may become through that silence the ‘token nurse’ or sometimes the ‘token woman’ if that nurse is female.” After nurses get into a board role, says Campbell, they must perform, and good communications are the most significant part of successful board performance.

Effective communication is not just about speaking, of course. Active listening is an important skill for board members, notes Benson. “I don't go into the boardroom with a preconceived idea of what I'm going to recommend,” she says. “I listen to the range of options. One of the most important skills I have learned is to be flexible to the right path forward based on the collective intelligence of the group.”

In addition to the ability to communicate with others during meetings, board members must be comfortable representing the organization in other settings. “You need to be articulate and know how to speak about your organization,” says Susan Hassmiller, executive and senior nurse advisor for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Here, again, nurses have an edge, says Linda Procci, former COO and VP. Every nurse is trained in the use of Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation ...

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