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How to be an effective Chairperson

How to be an effective chairperson

About this series

BCsystems as your body corporate manager works very closely with the chairperson, secretary, treasurer and each committee member. Our goal is to support all committee members with the shared goal of maximising the effectiveness of the role, and reduce the time and effort involved.

In this series of articles, we will be looking in detail at each role, with the aim of supporting our committees and helping each member understand the roles on the committee.

First up – Chairperson

The chairperson of the body corporate often plays a leading role in the committee and the body corporate community more generally. It is a volunteer position which can be very rewarding, but also can take an investment of time and effort from the member.

Owners who become elected as chairperson often come into the role with:

  1. A professional leadership background (e.g. school teacher, police officer, business owner)
  2. A strong vision for the body corporate community
  3. Leadership skill on a particular project (e.g. major renovations for the building)
  4. Experience in other chair roles (e.g. sports club, professional association, school PCYC)
  5. Sometimes – just because no other owners put their hand up for the job

Even though the role often attracts good leaders, there are no pre-requisites for the job. Every new building needs a chairperson, and every chairperson has a first time in the role. Working with our strata management team at BCsystems means you will have an experienced and friendly person at the end of the phone or email who can provide you with as much guidance and support as you need.

Whether you are an experienced hand or a beginner, this article is aimed to improve your experience as chairperson and get the best outcomes for your entire body corporate.

What does the role involve?

The role of chairperson under the legislation is actually a very specific and simple one. The chairperson ‘chairs’ or runs the body corporate meetings, and has a power to sign documents on behalf of the body corporate.

In reality however, the chairperson generally:

  • Works closely with the body corporate manager (BCsystems)
  • Works closely with the on-site manager or caretaker (if applicable)
  • Leads the general agenda for the committee
  • Leads the conversations in committee meetings
  • Delegates specific projects to committee members to work on
  • Speaks at the AGM to give owners a general overview of the activity of the committee

These are not formal requirements of the role of chairperson, however they are a pretty accurate summary of the usual role. Naturally each body corporate is different, and the amount of work often depends on the size and complexity of the individual body corporate, and also on the particular projects of objectives for that year.

So, here are some tips from our team on how to be an effective chairperson

1. Rely on expert advice

Your role as chairperson is not to know everything about body corporate management and about your building. Think of yourself as a coordinator of experts. It is perfectly reasonable to ask your strata manager, on-site manager, lawyer and other consultants for lots of advice and support, as much as you think is beneficial for the owners as a whole.

Expert advice does not come for free, but when you engage expert advice:

  1. The burden on you personally is reduced,
  2. All owners share a small percentage of the cost, instead of one person being burdened with the workload,
  3. The outcomes should be better – experts are experts for a reason,
  4. You will naturally take a guiding and coordinating role.

Think of this example – either you spend 2-hours researching a particular topic and coming up with advice, or each owner contributes $3.00 in their levies to engage a lawyer for one hour to give an expert answer on the same topic. Consider which one of those outcomes better serves the interests of all owners in the long term.

2. Delegate to your other committee members

The chairperson’s role may be one of leadership, but it should also involve delegation. If at your committee meeting the committee agrees to work on two or three topics for the next meeting, you might ask the other committee members to pair up to work on progressing those topics for the next meeting.

Often committee topics stagnate because nobody really wants to put their hand up and assert that they will do a better job than others. In reality most committee members are quite capable of working on getting quotes for a project, with the assistance of the building manager or strata manager.

It can be as simple as the chairperson assigning groups and setting an expectation that those groups will have something to contribute for the next meeting. Generally, committee members respond very well to being given a task to do.

3. Communicate with owners

In some schemes, owners can become disgruntled with the lack of progress on a particular topic. If an owner has not been on the committee before, they may not appreciate the time and complexity that can be involved in a project (for example painting in a townhouse complex).

Often a lot of discussion, thinking and planning happens in between committee meetings, and owners often do not get a sense of that happening as it is not visible progress.

It is important for the committee and body corporate as a whole to keep owners on-board with the committee’s agenda.

Sometimes the best approach is for the chairperson to put out a note or newsletter (or even just an email) summarising the project the committee is working on, and giving some direct personal feedback on the work and time commitment involved. Often owners will receive this type of communication quite differently if it comes from a volunteer-chairperson rather than the strata manager or on-site manager.

4. Know you can’t solve everything immediately

It can be frustrating if within your first 3-months on the committee, you have not ticked several items off your project list. In reality body corporate decision making is naturally fairly slow, and there are processes in the law that ensure all owners are given ample opportunity to be involved in nearly every decision.

Even excellent committees very rarely see immediate improvements from their actions. If for example your committee decides to work on a problem with visitor parking, it can take several months of commitment and reiterating messaging in the community before things start to improve.

This is again where communication with owners and reiterating the goal is important.

5. Take on challenges one at a time

Some projects take a lot of planning, and a focus to keep progressing those to a resolution. When faced with 2 or more important objectives, it may be a better long-term outcome if you deal with those one at a time, instead of progressing them together.

This of course depends on a range of factors including the cost of the work and how it will be funded. It is worthwhile having a planning discussion with your committee members and strata manager at the start of each year, so everyone is on the same page about the goals for the year.

Having too much on your plate can make it harder to get anything done.

6. Take a step back to think about the bigger picture

It can be tempting to get distracted by new issues as they arise. In reality some projects are much more important to the overall viability of the community than others. For example a deteriorating roof may not get as much attention as a unit having constant parties, but only one of those is likely to increase in significance and cost if it is not addressed immediately.

It can be difficult to quarantine what gets the committee’s attention first, and what can be managed by others in the meantime, for example by the on-site manager.

7. Separate “chairperson” life and home life

This one is for all chairpersons, but particularly if you also live in the community that you are serving. Many of us learned the value of home/work separation during 2020.

Even if you are a very active chairperson, you are still entitled to a home life and to ‘switch-off’ from your chairperson duties. Remember that you are not under any obligation to respond to all owners or take up all issues immediately.

If you are walking home from dinner on Saturday night and notice a tree branch overhanging the body corporate fence, that will likely still be there on Monday. Enjoy your weekend, and put some time aside at a time that suits you to focus on your chairperson duties.

8. Hand over the reins when you are ready

If you took on the role because of a particular interest or skill-set and then you completed that agenda, consider if it is time to move to a different position. New owners are coming into your body corporate community all the time, and someone else may bring a different perspective and renewed passion for the role.

Often members start on the committee as an ordinary member and demonstrate the qualities of a chairperson – you might enjoy the break from leadership and taking on a mentoring role from a different position.

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