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CRITICAL SKILLS NEEDED TO BE AN EFFECTIVE CHAIR OF THE BOARD IN LIFE SCIENCES

The role of the Chair of the Board is crucial in any organization, but it is especially important in the life sciences industry.



The Chair of the Board is responsible for overseeing the company's strategic direction, ensuring that the company complies with legal and regulatory requirements, and providing leadership to the Board of Directors.

In the life sciences industry, the Chair of the Board plays an even more critical role. This industry is highly regulated, with complex legal and ethical considerations.

Companies must navigate a complex web of regulations and policies to bring their products to market, and the Chair of the Board must ensure that the company is operating ethically and in compliance with all regulations. One of the most important roles of the Chair of the Board in the life sciences industry is to provide strategic leadership. This involves setting the company's overall direction and ensuring that all stakeholders are aligned with the company's vision.


Innovative companies in the life science industry have different pressures, such as unique regulatory-, compliance and financing requirements and a different business cycle than many other industries. Therefore, board directors of such companies require additional, specialised knowledge not generally learned from available corporate governance materials or taught in mainstream governance courses.


A key challenge for any life science company and the Board Chair is appointing the right individuals to the board, in essence getting the right mix of competencies on board. The composition of a board and its personalities are essential but often not easily changed or adjusted. Here, the Chair of the Board plays a key role in anticipating the dynamics of his/her particular life science company and what competencies are required on the board – hereunder 1) industry-specific competencies, 2) professional competencies, and 3) interpersonal competencies. For instance, in small start-up life science companies, we often see tensions between the values of scientific research and the commercial and financial realities governing the company and its market. These tensions must be addressed and mitigated by the board and hence reflected in the competency mix of the board.


From a broad board perspective, desirable capabilities and experiences of a life science board director include (emphasis varies through the life cycle of the company):


  • Previous life science industry experience (or other highly regulated industry experience)

  • Understanding of the building blocks and risks associated with the product development phase, including general understanding of the complexities of clinical studies.

  • Understanding of the building blocks and risks associated with regulatory processes.

  • Understanding of the commercial dynamics under which life science companies operate.

  • General acceptance of navigating in a high-risk environment.


Being the Chair of the Board in this context requires a unique set of skills and qualities.


First of all, the role is responsible for leading the Board of Directors, ensuring that the company is on track to meet its objectives, and representing the company to stakeholders.

So, here are some of the critical skills needed to be an effective Chair of the Board:

  1. Leadership Skills: The Chair of the Board must possess strong leadership skills to guide the Board of Directors and ensure that they are aligned with the company's vision and mission. The Chair must also lead by example, demonstrating ethical behavior, strategic thinking, and a commitment to the company's goals.

  2. Strategic Thinking: The Chair of the Board must have the ability to think strategically and develop long-term plans that align with the company's objectives. This includes setting priorities, assessing risks, and identifying opportunities for growth.

  3. Financial Acumen: The Chair of the Board must have a deep understanding of financial statements, financial management, and risk management. They must be able to analyze financial reports and make informed decisions that will benefit the company and its stakeholders.

  4. Communication Skills: Effective communication is crucial for the Chair of the Board to communicate the company's vision and goals to stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, and the public. The Chair must also have the ability to listen actively and communicate effectively with other Board members.

  5. Industry Knowledge: The Chair of the Board must have a deep understanding of the industry in which the company operates. This includes knowledge of industry trends, competitive dynamics, and regulatory environment.

  6. Relationship Building: The Chair of the Board must be able to build and maintain strong relationships with key stakeholders, including shareholders, regulators, and industry experts. This requires excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to build trust and credibility.

  7. Legal and Regulatory Knowledge: The Chair of the Board must have a thorough understanding of the legal and regulatory environment in which the company operates. They must ensure that the company complies with all applicable laws and regulations.

  8. Conflict Resolution: The Chair of the Board must be skilled in conflict resolution and have the ability to mediate disputes between Board members and other stakeholders. This requires a calm and diplomatic approach to resolving conflicts.

In summary, the Chair of the Board is a critical position that requires a unique set of skills and qualities. Effective Chairs must possess leadership skills, strategic thinking, financial acumen, communication skills, industry knowledge, relationship-building skills, legal and regulatory knowledge, and conflict resolution skills. With these skills, the Chair of the Board can guide the company to success and ensure that it is meeting the needs of its stakeholders.

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