The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

Improving Governance in Trusts: a Competency Framework to Support Career Development

Strong governance is vital to the success of any organisation and it is essential that those people employed to implement good governance practices in schools and multi-academy trusts have the skills and knowledge to make a positive difference. ICSA: The Governance Institute has, therefore, unveiled a new competency framework that helps to identify the characteristics of good company secretarial and governance performance.

Academies and multi-academy trusts (MATs) are funded by the tax payer and have a responsibility to maximise the potential of their students. Governance, transparency and accountability are essential. They provide assurance to stakeholders that public funds are being spent appropriately, that the establishment is well-led and well-run, and that students are being given the support they need to fully contribute to society. It falls to the governance professional, therefore, to ensure that there are effective governance arrangements in place so that schools and MATs can meet these objectives.

One of the key roles that governance professionals fulfil is the provision of objective advice to trustees on the legal, compliance and ethical matters that the board must navigate in order to deliver the trust’s charitable objects and educational aims in an effective manner for students and wider communities. Often this involves them reminding trustees that academy trusts are state-funded charitable companies limited by guarantee and that they have duties to perform as a charity trustee and company director as well as abiding by education legislation and other responsibilities associated with running an organisation. They also enable trustees to perform their role in accordance with the culture, ethics and values of the academy.

Despite the undeniable importance of having someone who can advise trustees on such matters, the essential role the governance professional plays in enabling good governance sometimes lacks the wider recognition that it deserves.

Charis Evans

Despite the undeniable importance of having someone who can advise trustees on such matters, the essential role the governance professional plays in enabling good governance sometimes lacks the wider recognition that it deserves. This is one of the key reasons why ICSA has developed the competency framework so that employers and recruitment specialists might have greater understanding of the contribution that governance professionals make. More importantly, the framework allows governance professionals to consider for themselves what skills and experience they need to develop as practitioners to move their careers forward.

The practitioner-led Competency Framework for Governance identifies the characteristics required for good performance in a company secretarial or governance role. These are grouped into three key areas: Understanding (knowledge), Practice (skills) and Values (personal and professional standards).

As illustrated below, a collection of key attributes or core competencies are identified for each of the three areas which, taken together, sit at the heart of good governance.


Additionally, ICSA has identified how these competencies are applied in practice, with the framework describing some of the behaviours that epitomise what they look like at four different levels of proficiency – entry, emerging, established and excelling.

Practising company secretaries and governance professionals helped to develop the framework so that ICSA could be sure the levels map broadly to different career stages. While these levels should be of use in helping practitioners, employers and recruitment specialists to identify what is expected at various career stages, it is important to remember that the accumulation of skill and experience is often shaped as much by the particular roles and responsibilities that a practitioner has, as by their core capabilities. Nevertheless, in defining what an effective governance professional knows, does and believes, and describing the behaviours that demonstrate this at different levels, the framework provides a clear picture of the role for governance professionals and those who work with them.

The framework will create value for governance professionals and their employers, be it as a useful self-assessment tool for individuals or a benchmark for development reviews undertaken by team leaders and employers. ICSA will be developing guidance for employers and team leaders in due course which will make use of the framework, including the development of model role descriptions and skills audits, which will provide a structured opportunity to explore if an organisations’ governance capabilities match its aims.

The framework is available to download and share at