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Do board members really need a Professional Designation? 

For generations, high-level professional experience has been the primary qualification for leaders seeking a board seat, and CEOs and CFOs often were the sought-after candidates. But market demands and stakeholder expectations about how organizations operate are rapidly changing, and longtime practices for seating board members are shifting as a result.

Organizations are increasingly placing ESG, or environmental, social and governance, standards, at the forefront, triggering a much closer eye on ethical governance practices at every level. And a growing awareness of the importance of diverse skills and perspectives is prompting expanded searches for professionals with cybersecurity or sustainability expertise, for example, and individuals from backgrounds that are historically underrepresented at board tables, including people of color and women.

All this change makes professional designation for board members more important than ever for both organizations and prospective board members. Here’s what a professional designation is, and why it matters.

What Is a Professional Designation for Board Members?

Professional designations provide prospective board members with the education, skills and confidence to serve as an effective leader. Director education programs, offered through associations and universities across the globe, dive into topics such as risk management, board effectiveness and governance culture. A certification is a clear sign to organizations that a board candidate not only has the skills to make an immediate impact, but the willingness to expand their knowledge.

The role of a board member, after all, is different from an executive leader. Board members typically are laser-focused on setting up an organization for a successful future through good governance and strategic planning. Top-notch board members know how to ask the right questions, listen, creatively problem-solve and collaborate.

Boards where every member brings a professional designation can take advantage of a common understanding of governance models and best practices, elevating and aligning everybody at the boardroom table. Companies benefit from reduced liability and risk, thanks to fully contributing members who have a solid understanding of a board member’s various duties.

Find out more about becoming a Professional Director®

4 Benefits of a Professional Designation

Considering the advantages, it’s no surprise that a professional designation is table stakes for board members of public companies these days. But a professional designation brings big benefits to individuals, too. Here are four ways a professional designation can enhance a leader’s résumé and opportunities.

1.    Practical Education 

The education you will receive about board roles and responsibilities is indispensable. Programs typically follow an adult learning model, using case studies from leading business schools, simulations and role-playing to engage and instruct. Participants often start applying the tools they’ve learned before they’ve even completed the program.

2.    Life-Long Certification

The certification comes with an independent stamp of approval from a reputable third party that you carry with you as long as you keep up the continuing education requirements and don't violate the code of conduct. The certifications are generally acknowledged from country to country, sector to sector and industry to industry.

3.    Improved Chances

A professional designation will help you stand out from the crowd. If the choice comes down to candidates with and without a governance designation, nominating committees know that the individual with the designation will be more highly qualified, particularly for more senior boards in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.

4.    Bigger Network

Professional experience has always been critical for board members, but so has their professional network, cultivated through shared alma maters, club memberships and career tracks. And, for many reasons, this tight-knit network has historically made it difficult for some — including women and people of color — to break in because they often don’t share that common background.

As you go through a director education program, you can expand your own connections with a cohort of like-minded individuals that you’ll get to know well. Afterwards, you can lean on this network of fellow alumni graduates for advice, support and references.

The benefits of professional designation to organizations and individuals are clear: They provide board members and prospective ones with the tools they need to effectively lead. But there’s another winner in all this too: communities.

When school, charity, and for-profit boards, across a community, have a professional designation, we all have access to collective capacity building, driven by studied and ethical governance practices. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all ships. In this case, all the different boards in every sector and region will rise as a result.


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