This is the third article we’ve posted on building a close, positive and productive partnership between the board chair and CEO. And it won’t be the last, you can be sure, because of the high-stakes involved in this critical working relationship. I would suggest that one of the top priorities of a truly board-savvy transportation CEO is to transform his or her board chair into a strong governing partner, a reliable ally, and when needed, an ardent change champion. The board chair makes an especially important partner for the CEO not only because of his or her formal authority as “CEO” of the transportation authority’s governing board, but also because board chairs are often major actors wielding tremendous influence in their communities.
In this really informative and fascinating podcast, two of the board-savviest public transportation CEOs I know – Steve Bland, Chief Executive Officer of the Nashville MTA, and Nat Ford, Chief Executive Officer of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority – share their extensive experience in cementing relationships with a number of board chairs over the years. Four of the important lessons they talk about are: (1) Get to know your board chair really well as early in his or her tenure as possible – in terms of leadership objectives, knowledge and skills, communication style, etc. (2) Capitalize on the strengths of your board chair, especially in dealing with key stakeholders in your community. (3) Communicate frequently with your board chair and never, ever let them get caught off-guard, particularly by bad news. (4) And don’t forget to stay pretty close to your other board members, since one or more of them might very well become future board chairs.