Non-Executive Directors: Benefits for professional service firms

It has been my great pleasure to have been a Non-Executive Director (NED) for various professional service firms for many years. I currently hold two such positions for property professional practices (see I thought I would share my experiences of the role and talk briefly about Non-Executive Directors: Benefits to professional service firms. 

The role of a Non-Executive Director

Typically, NEDs are appointed because they are independent and impartial and bring wide commercial experience and specialist knowledge as well as a host of personal qualities to a board.

A NED contributes to the strategic direction, helps solve problems that arise, communicates with a broad network of third parties and maintains a number of compliance, performance monitoring (audit) and other duties relating to the appointment, performance and remuneration of directors.

The role can be summarised as: 

Strategy: Non-executive directors should constructively challenge and contribute to the development of strategy. As an external member of an organisation, the NED may have a clearer or wider view of possible factors affecting the firm and its business environment, more-so than executive directors.

Performance: Non-executive directors should scrutinise the performance of management in meeting agreed goals and objectives and monitoring and, where necessary, removing senior management, and in succession planning.

Risk: Non-executive directors should satisfy themselves that financial information is accurate and that financial controls and systems of risk management are robust and defensible.

People: Non-executive directors can benefit the firm’s and board’s effectiveness through outside contacts and opinions. Helping the business and board connect with networks of useful people and organisations is an important function for the NED to fulfil.

Non-Executive Directors in professional service firms

From my experience, being a Non-Executive Director in a small or medium-sized professional practice entails other activities and therefore brings additional benefits. This is how I see the benefits of a Non-executive director:

Commitment & Continuity

Whereas consultancy assignments provide an intense period of involvement with a professional practice – sometimes for the development of a new business plan or strategy – they can leave the firm at a loss or struggling to maintain momentum when the project is completed.

A Non-Executive Director has a longer term commitment to the professional service firm so there is continuity in advice and support after the assignment is complete. The NED remains on-hand to monitor progress and help get through the often much trickier challenge of implementation and change management


Partners and business owners have a plethora of demands on their time. They are often pulled from one task (sometimes crisis) to another and must manage practice management, people development, financial control, operational efficiency, client demands, growth projects and business development as well as fee-earning tasks to name a few.

A NED is one step removed from the daily milieu and operational headaches and can remind the leaders to focus on their long term aims and the critical elements of the future strategy . A Non-Executive Director can guard against shoot-from-the-hip decisions that are not aligned with the strategy.

Critical friend

A Non-Executive Director acts as a critical friend: Someone who knows you well and who can be trusted to say the tough stuff that sometimes needs to be said. A Non-Executive Director has the benefit of knowing both the personal and business issues at stake and can challenge and stress-test things from a uniquely independent and external perspective. NEDs have no axe to grind and no internal political affiliations – and therefore can be relied upon to tell it as it is.


It can be lonely at the top. Business leaders, managing partners and heads of department can find it hard to express their doubts, questions and worries to those who they lead – sometimes feeling that they need to remain decisive and positive at all times.

Leaders may find it difficult to express concerns about the impact of developments in their personal lives. They may fear emotional contagion ( An NED will listen and support and the leader who can be reassured that these conversations will be confidential.


An NED knows about the business, its plan and its owners and leaders but spends most of his or her time in other markets and with other businesses. It means that they can reality and stress test strategies, projects and ideas from a different perspective. And the business owners and boards know that this challenge comes from the genuine concern for the future of the business – not from a personal or political perspective.


In the past I have held executive director positions for marketing and business development and have assisted hundreds of professional service firms – large and small – tackle a range of strategic and change management initiatives.

A Non-Executive director can be a tame management consultant who knows your business and can provide all sorts of management advice and insight both from MBA studies and knowledge of and work with a range of other practices and businesses in similar situations. This is particularly valuable to smaller practices which do not have the resources to hire full time executive directors in the areas of marketing, business development or human resources

Client focus

As a Fellow of Chartered Institute of Marketing, my professional training necessarily brings a client centric approach to Board room discussions. This ensures that all proposed changes – whether in technology efficiencies or human resource strategies – are considered from the external client perspective as well as the internal product/service and financial criteria.

Coaching & Counselling

Being qualified in psychology, psychometrics, NLP, professional coach-mentoring and counselling there’s an ability help with coaching and even counselling the owners and Board members and senior management teams of professional service firms. Whilst the founders and leaders of the practice are often highly skilled at their technical discipline – with a strong entrepreneurial flair – they have often never undertaken management training. And have little appetite or time to do so.

A mantra for supporting business leaders in this context is the need for delegation  (and thus the development of the next level of management) to free up time so that the leaders can work on the business and not just in the business.


A key challenge for many growing businesses is succession. The qualities and attributes of the founding and most senior partners are often difficult to recruit in or develop within the next level of management. Non-Executive directors support the current leaders as they bridge the gap and encourage them to develop the next generation of potential leaders.

Channel & Contacts

A Non-Executive Director provides another channel of communication to and from the owners and the Board to the rest of the business. Internal communication is an important role for Non-Executive Directors who are often better placed to pick up on the tone of internal morale outside the Board room.

Non-Executive Directors can also connect a Board with a wide range of external contacts too – for recruitment, consultancy, funding, suppliers, mentors, referrers and even potential merger targets With over 30 years’ experience from the technology, not for profit, legal, accountancy and property sectors I can often join the dots and facilitate introductions. NEDs can also play a valuable role in key client relationships.

In professional services generally – and property in particular – diversity at senior levels remains an issue. Many professional practices still have boards dominated by men. Not only do I – as NED – add a female perspective but I am also considerably older than many of the partners and owners of firms I work with. Whilst I don’t particularly appreciate my grey hair, my directors and clients certainly do.