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First-time NEDs  |  Succession planning

Winning the competition: non-executive director skills in high demand



In the last few years, the Board Director practice has been moving away from end-of-career thinking to a professional career role with specific non-executive director skills the candidates must acquire and develop. Although almost any professional can be appointed as a non-executive director, the role is complex. It entails important responsibilities that must be adequately understood.


Being a non-executive director requires a different skills-set from performing as a senior executive. Non-executive directors are expected to bring strategic thinking, business, and financial acumen to the table. But what other skills are necessary to be effective?


The skills of influential board members

Non-executive directors are expected to demonstrate specific skills to agree on the strategic plan and monitor its execution. They must have:

  • the ability to think analytically and creatively
  • high emotional intelligence
  • problem-solving skills
  • an inquisitive mindset.

Professionals with a background as CEO, Finance Director, C-Suite executive, and divisional head of large corporates tend to be well-positioned for non-executive appointments because of the generalist business and leadership, strategic and financial planning skills these roles require. Today, we know that this skills-set is necessary but not sufficient to develop an influential non-executive career. What other skills do you need to acquire?


The professional disciplines and skills currently in demand on UK boards

As the Institute of Board Members and a leading , we have benchmarked the critical skills and experiences that a modern board director needs to have. To provide a valuable list of today’s skills-set, we have utilised the data of our jobs board, used by hundreds of actively recruiting organisations and our acting board director network.


We have found that while sector expertise remains essential, boards increasingly emphasise transferrable and diverse skills. Currently, the most high-demand skills that UK boards are looking to add are the followings:

  • Transformation, change management and restructuring
  • IT infrastructure, technology, and digital skills
  • Governance
  • Risk management
  • Finance and accounting
  • Legal & compliance, notably if your expertise relates to the sector for which you apply, e.g., property law skills in the real estate sector
  • HR skills
  • Sustainability


The new trend positively contributes to greater cognitive diversity on boards and better boardroom discussions and debates.


Practical steps to acquire new skills and gain the first board role

You might realise that you have the potential to be an influential non-executive director; thus, you should take a proactive approach to plan ahead. It would help if you preferably start at least 12 months before when you would like to be appointed. Think where you would like to be in three to five years and talk to non-executive directors to gain insights into how they reached their position. Attend networking events and take part in industry conversations to learn more about job openings and engage with organisations actively recruiting.


Experience is often crucial, so consider applying for a voluntary NED role with a charity first to gain a foundational understanding of the role.


Training, support, and CV advice can also pay dividends. Although executive education is a busy space, you can find numerous courses offering foundational programs to help you evaluate whether the non-executive career is right for you. Most of them will need you to start investing in your future career. However, one on the market gives you the essential insight about the non-executive role and application strategies to secure your first interviews. This short webinar is offered by NEDonBoard, the official training body of the Global Institute of Board Members. It is designed for senior business leaders and consultants looking to transition to non-executive directorship and wanting to understand the process to become a non-executive director. The webinar offers a fast and secure method to evaluate whether you are ready to start your non-executive career journey.


Are you ready to start your non-executive journey? In that case, you should consider enrolling on a professional course that will equip you with essential knowledge, skills, tools, and strategies to secure your new role and develop your portfolio career. Course fees highly differ on the market; you can find non-executive director programmes ranging from one thousand pounds to six thousand pounds. Programmes may offer intense academic governance knowledge, while others focus on practicality and outcome. We believe that a practical approach that does not ignore fundamental governance knowledge, is the winning recipe for success. Our non-executive director programmes have been developed by board directors for new board directors. One of our flagship training courses is called the NED Accelerator® Programme. The programme offers you:

  • a highly respected qualification awarded by NEDonBoard, the professional body of the Global Institute of Boar Members
  • access to NED CV templates
  • fast track to roles offered by a range of public, private and not-for-profit organisations.


Now, you know what skills you need and how you can acquire those to start a successful non-executive director career. So, are you ready for your non-executive director journey?



You might read

How to secure your first NED role

How to become an influential non-executive director

What Does a Firm Want from Their NED?

What can you expect as compensation for a non-executive director role?