The Relationship Between the School Principal, the Business Manager and the Chair of the Governing Body

Published
28 November 2019

There are many different non-government school models and many different systemic non-government school models in Australia. The relationships that exist between the governing body chair, the principal and the business manager vary according to the type of school and its governing accountability, the culture of the school and the culture of the overarching governing body.

 

Relationship between the Principal, the Business Manager and the Chair of the Governing Body

The term “relationship” reminds us that we are not just dealing with three different roles in a school. We are dealing with three different people in three different roles in a school.

Each relationship is defined by the actions and communications of the people within the relationship and by the guidelines set down to define the parameters of the relationship. If the latter does not exist, then how does a relationship develop and remain ‘on track’?

Other environmental factors that can affect these relationships are the size of the school (e.g. some schools may not have a business manager), whether or not the school has independent governance or is part of a system with an ‘advisory board’ and whether the school has an independent and registered constitution.

However, even though it is your school culture that is the catalyst for all relationships, it is your constitution that defines the roles of these people, and therefore sets the ground rules for relationships between them.

 

Triumvirate

The relationship between the principal, the chair of the governing body and the business manager could be described as a triumvirate. The online Cambridge Dictionary defines a triumvirate as a group of three people who are in control of an activity or an organisation.

A triumvirate relationship model indicates that there could be an equal separation of authority and possibly responsibility as well. However, in practice, this is not necessarily the case.

Each role and each person have a specific skills list and roles to carry out. They can work independently of each other but must be able to work together and support each other in their roles.

 

Issues to Consider

In most schools, as both principal and business manager are employees, it is the governing body that needs to set clear guidelines so that the roles of principal and business manager and the interrelationship between them is clearly defined- as are the lines of responsibility and accountability.

In addition, there must be a crystal-clear boundary between what is governance and what is management and either group of parties should not cross between the two. Blending, merging or assuming roles on the ‘other side of the fence’ would breach registration requirements in most states and territories.

One big risk is that conflict may take place if the governing body fails to define the roles clearly and does not ensure that the parties understand their positions and accountabilities. The second risk is a failure to define the boundary between governance and management and either group of parties crossing over the boundary between governance and management.

The chair, as the channel of communication between the governing body and the principal (and therefore the school executive), should ensure that there are clear communication lines established between the principal, the business manager and the governing body with a minimum of duplication, ensuring that the governing body is kept informed of all relevant issues that pertain to the governance of the school. It is also the responsibility of the chair to ensure that there is an established governance culture that builds trust.

However, it is the governing body’s determination of the lines of professional accountability that is arguably the most essential component of developing and maintaining a relationship between these three people. This determination between the three parties ensures that the relationships have solid boundaries and no ‘grey areas’ or areas of overlap.

Articulating the governing body’s cultural expectations and professional accountability of the principal and the business manager ensures that:

  • the implementation of the school culture can become part of the performance assessment process
  • the professional accountability of the principal and the business manager can become part of the performance assessment process
  • although the principal may lead the culture, it is acknowledged that they may not determine it
  • there is a balance between performance and accountability and cultural alignment for both leaders with neither element dominating the other to the detriment of the school.

 

Summary

Each relationship is a human relationship. Defining the roles helps to define the relationship boundaries for the people concerned.

Defining the school culture, knowing the KPIs, knowing the lines of authority, responsibility and accountability further defines the boundaries. Making time to communicate regularly, effectively and with genuine purpose is essential.

Remember to:

  • define the roles to allow for the human relationships within and between the roles
  • define the culture and professional accountability
  • communicate openly and regularly to build and maintain trust.

A breakdown in the relationship between any of these three crucial people can be described as being akin to a very messy and expensive divorce. Apart from the toll it takes on the individuals, it is usually the children who will suffer the most.

The full version of this abridged article with details regarding each of the relationships is available under the Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) List in CompliLearn. It is available as a formal assessible training item that would be invaluable for governing body members.

As we all know, training for governing bodies assists individual governors to understand their roles and responsibilities as governors, how their governing body can effectively contribute to the success of their school and the resources available to them. Curated high quality governance professional development (PD), such as that available in CompliLearn, can provide your governing body members with easily accessible PD that can be accessed at times when they are freely available- not only on yet another weeknight or another Saturday- away from their families.

Craig D’cruz

With 37 years of educational experience, Craig D’cruz is the National Education Lead at CompliSpace. Craig provides direction on education matters including new products, program/module content and training. Previously Craig held the roles of Industrial Officer at the Association of Independent Schools of WA, he was the Principal of a K-12 non-government school, Deputy Principal of a systemic non-government school and he has had teaching and leadership experience in both the independent and Catholic school sectors. Craig currently sits on the board of a large non-government school and is a regular presenter on behalf of CompliSpace and other educational bodies on issues relating to school governance, school culture and leadership.