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Working with the CEO

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What to expect from your CEO in safeguarding

Even if you’re in a small organisation, with low safeguarding risks, you should expect your CEO to have a broad and balanced understanding of safeguarding as a whole. You’ll need to be confident that they understand the emphasis the Charity Commission puts on safeguarding for all charities no matter who they work with.
You’ll need them to:

  • ‘think the unthinkable’ and be aware that a serious safeguarding issue could arise in any organisation, including yours
  • take an overview of safeguarding across the organisation, linking a safer culture with effective governance 
  • appoint, manage and support a team to deliver safeguarding – such as a designated safeguarding lead
  • back that up  by personally modelling safer values, attitudes and behaviours.

Chair and CEO working together

In safeguarding, as in all of governance, the chair and CEO should work as a team providing leadership for the whole organisation, covering both internal and external affairs. 

This section covers what the chair of the trustee board can do to make that relationship effective. Together with the CEO they must put in place the right culture to create a safer organisation, one that is vigilant and makes safeguarding a priority for everyone. In discussion, they’ll select the right way to work together. 

The chair should consider taking as many of the following steps as they can.

  • Develop and communicate a shared understanding of the organisation’s purpose and strategic priorities with a particular focus on cultural values and safeguarding.
  • Make sure that the CEO’s job description clearly outlines their safeguarding responsibilities including focusing on cultural change. It should avoid overlapping with the role of chair.
  • Set up regular, scheduled meetings with the CEO so that they can make communication a focus of their working relationship.
  • Give each of those meetings a clearly defined focus and know what they both need to prepare.
  • Reflect together on whether the organisation is creating a safer culture and helping everyone it meets be safer and feel safer.
  • The chair should use those conversations to reflect on how they feel about the CEO’s attitude, culture and values.
  • Both should make time for informal meetings as well, so that they both understand each other’s personalities and motivations.

The aim is to create a professional relationship that is comfortable without drifting into cosy friendship. The chair and CEO must be able to challenge each other. They must plan for decisions together, but only make those decisions with input from the board. The trustee board needs to have confidence that the CEO and chair are promoting the same safer culture. Then they’ll feel comfortable challenging decisions and working as a group to make sure the organisations values, culture, policies and procedures are all working together to keep people safe.

Recognising when things are going wrong

You also need to be ready to ‘think the unthinkable’ – what if your CEO is part of the problem? These are questions that you can ask yourself if you’re beginning to worry that things might be going wrong.

  • Do you have evidence of whether the CEO is genuinely working to promote a safer culture that encourages people to speak up, be vigilant and make safeguarding a priority?
  • Do you have evidence of whether the CEO is modelling the organisation’s safeguarding principles, values and behaviours?
  • Have there been complaints involving the CEO that relate to safer attitudes, values and behaviours? 
  • Has there been an allegation made against the CEO? 
  • Has the staff survey highlighted concerns about the culture and attitudes towards safeguarding?
  • Have you identified concerns through your regular meetings with the CEO?
  • Has the board raised concerns about the effectiveness of the CEO?
  • Have you found that the CEO resists the idea of improvements to safeguarding policies and procedures and time spent on promoting a safer culture?
  • Does the CEO follow the Code of Conduct and challenge others if they do not?
  • Do their contributions to safeguarding reports meet the trustees expectations?
  • Is the CEO able to talk from a position of knowledge and confidence about safeguarding issues providing evidence to underpin their actions and opinions?

These are examples of behaviours that might be considered warning signs. You should add others from your wider experience to this list.

  • CEO actively refuses to support an internal audit/review following a serious incident involving a staff member.
  • The CEO retweets or re-posts inappropriate content from his personal social media accounts.
  • The CEO refused to get involved in your safeguarding quality and review process.
  • The CEO claims they don’t need to attend safeguarding training, but does not appear to understand key requirements such as the need for disclosure and barring checks on certain staff. 
  • Feedback from staff surveys suggest a concern with senior leadership behaviour.

Whatever the source of concern, the chair should lead the relationship with the CEO. As chair they need to reflect on it and where appropriate discuss the issue with the other trustees. You will need to come to an agreement on how the situation will be managed and the actions you will take.

If there is a serious incident involving your CEO you must follow your safeguarding and reporting procedures, however challenging it may seem. This may include a temporary suspension until the investigation is complete.

Page last edited Sep 30, 2019

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