CEOs want more directors with specific skills – how can you network your way into the boardroom?

by Stephen Conmy on Aug 11, 2021


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You can network your way into a boardroom; however, you must demonstrate sought-after abilities and skills if you want a seat at the table. CEOs want more directors with specific skills. What are they and do you have them?

Organisations across the globe are facing ever-more tricky business environments, and the board’s role is evolving rapidly.

Increasingly, CEOs are looking for strategic non-executive directors that are hands-on and innovative.

So, how do you become an in-demand non-executive director, and what strategic skills do you need to develop?

Shaping innovation and growth

Old-fashioned views of the board as a group of retired executives who meet a few times a year to ratify decisions made by the CEO are disappearing.

Forward-looking companies and CEOs want directors who can implement effective risk management strategies while shaping innovation and growth.

New research led by Prof Patricia Klarner, director of the Institute for Organisation Design at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, shows that ‘enlightened’ CEOs want more board support. As well as supporting and driving innovation, they want boards to manage and mitigate risks as well.

“Modern CEOs want members of their boards to understand current issues including regulatory regimes, ESG and climate change risks, the realities of Covid, and cybersecurity threats,” says David W Duffy, CEO of the Corporate Governance Institute. “However, they also want board members to contribute to strategic growth.”

The new reality:

  • We are coming to the end of the days of the ‘all-rounder’ non-executive director.
  • CEOs are increasingly interested in finding board members with specific skills and experience.
  • Boards look for directors who can effectively contribute to a company’s strategy.
  • Businesses want directors to have the knowledge and skills necessary to fulfil their roles effectively.
  • CEOs want directors who are knowledgeable about governance and best practices.

What industry skills are currently in high demand?

Currently, boards are seeking the following skills:

  • Restructuring, change management, and transformation
  • IT infrastructure, technology, and digital skills
  • Governance knowledge
  • Risk management
  • Environmental, social and governance expertise (ESG)
  • Legal and compliance
  • HR skills

What general skills are in high demand?

Strategic decision-making skills

Directors make critical decisions that affect a company’s current state and future. Making strategic decisions requires evaluating your organisation’s goals and assessing potential risks associated with each decision.

Effective, well-informed decisions can lead to growth and success. When a specific process isn’t achieving the desired results, a company director needs to respond swiftly and make informed decisions.

Analytical skills

The ability to glean insight from relevant information, intelligence or data will help you with strategic decisions to grow. Directors also need to be able to interpret and recognise the most pertinent information to achieve goals. Analysing data can help produce creative solutions to any challenges facing the board and the CEO.


To respond effectively to workplace and industry changes, directors must be adaptable. As well as planning, directors should anticipate challenges that may require a change in direction. The ability to adjust quickly to these changes is essential.

Inspirational leadership

To display inspirational leadership, one must clearly state goals, outline strategies to achieve those goals, and allocate resources to deliver results. Visionary leadership skills help a director unite their board under common goals, which will boost boardroom engagement and productivity and produce better results.


A creative mindset often drives an organisation’s success. A creative company director constantly seeks to improve and streamline processes and find innovative solutions to challenges. Business models can also be reshaped with creative thinking to generate positive changes and growth.


The ability to demonstrate empathy, especially in a leadership position, is crucial in improving communication, building boardroom relationships, and maintaining director satisfaction. By showing compassion for others’ experiences, perspectives and feelings, colleagues will feel taken care of and valued. Through empathy, you can foster a collaborative environment and boost productivity.

Management skills

To assign tasks and set achievable goals, directors at a company should know the strengths of the organisation. An essential part of good management is to provide the people in your business with the training and resources to reach their objectives and prioritise tasks to ensure optimal performance.

Written and verbal communication skills

Directors are in regular contact with other company leaders and board members. A solid ability to communicate both orally and in writing is necessary when discussing strategies and risks. In addition to building rapport with the CEO and the board, communicating clearly ensures everyone understands your value as a director.

CEOs want more directors with specific skills

Through experience, training, networking, and education, a company director can develop the skills they need to succeed.

There are industry-specific courses available for developing your skill set as a director.

One way to learn how to improve your skills is to be open to feedback and constructive criticism.

Think about how you can apply the feedback you get from colleagues.

How to network and get noticed by CEOs and boards


Executive networking at its best. Take part in groups, post updates, respond to others’ posts, connect with people you know and make new connections. Use LinkedIn to find first degree contacts (CEOs and board members) at your target organisations.


Search Twitter for your target contacts. Follow and retweet them. Also, look for your target organisations. Follow them and retweet them. Comment positively on their Twitter accounts. Having a Twitter presence demonstrates that you are up-to-date and interested in specific subjects. Make sure you have a detailed profile description on Twitter. Who you are, your area of expertise and a professional-looking headshot.

Online media

If members of your target audience write articles online, post positive comments. Your aim is to reinforce your brand, knowledge and value.

Associations and groups

Make friends with other experts and thought leaders. Become a member of a committee. Publish articles related to your areas of expertise on their websites and newsletters. Become a member of an Institute and then become a mentor to a new member or a less experienced person.

In-person networking events

Do not overlook trade shows, conferences, networking events and other opportunities to meet and make connections in person.

Volunteer your time and expertise

Engage in community events, fundraising efforts, and other community activities where you have expertise.

Your own network

Circle back to your established trusted network. Let people know you want to contribute to a board. You just never know who may lead you to a critical decision-maker.


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