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Securing your first CEO role

  • Publish Date: Posted 6 months ago
  • Author:by Adam Stacey

To lead an organisation that is committed to changing lives and serving others is clearly a position of great responsibility. Part of what we do at Charisma is a discernment process that looks far beyond a CV and considers individuals who may not have had previous experience as a CEO. It enables us to push beyond surface-level qualifications and experience to identify the traits that we know add huge value to organisations looking for a CEO.

Don’t rule yourself out

If you work in the not-for-profit and charity space or come from outside that sector, you may feel it will be tough to evidence why you are the right person to lead. The good news is there are character traits and transferable skills that enable you to stand out and position yourself for your first CEO role.

Relevant experience from outside the sector

If you’ve worked in the financial sector for example, either as a Finance Director, CFO, or other senior position, you could be the perfect person to lead a charity. In most sectors, the CFO and CEO work closely together in partnership so they understand well how to support each other.

When you list out the attributes of a CFO, it becomes increasingly obvious how these qualities can bring something to the CEO role: 

  • Problem-solving

  • Analytical skills

  • Strategic thinking

  • Leadership

  • Ethics

  • Flexibility 

  • Integrity

The CEO of a charity must answer to donors and stakeholders, and therefore anyone from a financial leadership background will understand the need for transparency and ethical handling of funds. This doesn't sit just across finance either, if you've worked in a senior/director role in HR, Marketing, Fundraising, Programmes and more then the above bullet points will all be true of the role you have done.

How do you know if you’re ready to be a CEO? 

The path to becoming a CEO certainly begins with some questions. You need to ask yourself and be able to evidence how you will bring value to the organisation you want to head up. 

  • Can you inspire and lead people? 

  • Have there been situations with tough challenges that you have resolved? 

  • Are you able to persuade individuals and identify where you might utilise champions within an organisation?

  • Can you effectively articulate why a specific cause inspires you?

  • What experiences have shaped you that will enhance your ability to lead and inspire passion?

Commit to lifelong development

The best leaders understand that they will always be learning. If you secure your first CEO role, identify a mentor or coach because a desire for continuous personal development and learning runs through all good leaders. Building a strong support system is critical for success. Can you identify peer networks or opportunities for leadership events where you can exchange ideas and support one another as you learn and grow into your role?

As a CEO, you must always show you understand whom you serve.

That does not just mean the beneficiaries of the charity, it’s about other board members, trustees, and the team around you. 

When appointing a CEO, the recruitment process will always examine the individual’s motivation. If you have no experience as a CEO but can speak convincingly about why you want to step into this position, you can identify yourself as a strong contender. This is particularly apparent if you can demonstrate valuable insight into the barriers and challenges that your beneficiaries face.

Shaping your career

Think you have what it takes to become a CEO? We’d love to talk to you.