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A councillor's workbook on chairing skills

A councillor’s workbook on chairing skills cover image
The workbook for chairs / chairmen will equip those who are new in the role with all the tools and strategies necessary for chairing successful meetings and provide a refresher for those who are more experienced in the role. This resource is recommended to all councillors and aspiring chairs / chairmen.


This workbook has been designed as a distance learning aid for councillors. It is intended to provide you with insight and assistance with the key skills to help you to be most effective in your role. Some of the content may be most useful for more newly elected councillors. But, nonetheless, if you have been a councillor for some time, the workbook should serve as a useful reminder of some of the vital skills, approaches and tactics that make for an effective ward councillor. It may even challenge you to reconsider how you have approached aspects of the role to date.

Those councillors who are new to local government will recognise that there are many aspects to being an effective ward or division councillor. The workbook will help you to get up-to-speed on the main areas that require focus and attention. In effect, it should provide you with some pointers on how to develop a style and approach that you are comfortable with that enables you to be most effective in your day-to-day duties.

The workbook can be used as a stand-alone learning aid or alongside other material you may cover such as e-learning modules or sessions within your own council. It is recognised that each individual must decide how best to use and develop their chairing skills, based on individual preference and confidence. As such, the workbook should serve more as a direction marker rather than a roadmap.

You do not need to complete it all in one session and may prefer to work through the material at your own pace. The key requirement is to think about your own approach to chairing meetings and develop good meeting etiquette. To chair meetings in line with the protocols, constitution and codes of conduct within your council. And to consider how the material in this workbook is relevant to structure and composition of your own council.

Throughout this workbook you will encounter different types of information, and suggested actions, indicated by the symbols shown below:

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– this icon indicates guidance such as definitions, quotations and research

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– this icon indicates questions asking you to reflect on your role or approach

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Case studies

– this icon indicates examples of approaches used in different settings

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Hints and tips

– this icon indicates best practice advice

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Useful links

– this icon indicates sources of additional information

Chairing skills

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"A meeting is one of the windows that local communities have into your council, it’s an opportunity for your council to look professional and show clear leadership. It can be one of the most difficult tasks you will ever undertake, remaining calm under sometimes difficult circumstance is a skill which needs to be honed. The LGA councillor workbook on chairing skills will equip new, and refresh more experienced chairs / chairmen, with all the tools and strategies necessary for a smooth running of a meeting; giving confidence to any councillor who is chairing a council or committee. It is highly recommended to all councillors and aspiring chairs / chairmen.

Executive Mayor Kate Allsop

Why effective chairing is important

Meetings are a traditional and essential component of local government. Whether these are in-person meetings. Or meetings over video conferencing software, which is increasingly used for conducting day to day business in many organisations. For both councillors and managers, meetings serve as a forum for discussion and agreement, planning and monitoring, communication and leadership. Used appropriately, meetings can challenge, inspire and inform. And while they are not the only meetings that councillors will be asked to attend, committee meetings, in particular, are a mainstay of the political management process.

Nobody wants to attend an unfocused and unproductive meeting. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Formal group discussions need focus and direction to stop them becoming just social ‘chit chat’ or a rambling discourse on the state of world affairs.

And open debate needs a degree of stewardship, to enable all views to be heard and conclusions to be based on reasoned arguments, consensus or compromise. This is the essential role of the chair / chairman.

Effective chairing is important because it can:

  • provide for clear leadership and direction – ensuring that discussions are held within some framework for debate, ie based on an agreed agenda and adhering to established ground rules, standing orders or protocols for how the business should be conducted
  • ensure that debates are focused and balanced – involving discussion from all of those who wish to articulate a view, particularly where conflicting viewpoints are being expressed
  • enable decisions to be reached – allowing participants to agree on the way forward and any further action that needs to be taken, for example, for the allocation of resources to meet agreed priorities
  • contribute to group or team working – allowing people to build rapport and contribute to group / committee discussions. This can often help to inform, unite and inspire people
  • ensure that resources are used to best effect – saving time and energy and allowing information, views and evidence to be gathered in an efficient and timely manner.

What is a chair / chairman?

Any chair / chairman has three main roles:

  • to represent the council at formal and informal meetings and ensure that discussions are carried out in accordance with the council’s constitution and procedural rules
  • to make sure that meetings are run effectively and inclusively, in line with any agreed agenda, to deal with the business at hand – this will include preparation and follow-up, as well as taking charge during the meeting itself
  • to uphold the principles of the council’s constitution, codes of conduct and standards expected of councillors
  • to be an effective advocate and representative of your council at meetings and events in your community. You may be required to act as an arbitrator, spokesperson or facilitator at these meetings.
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Challenge 1

Your recent experience of chairing meetings

  • Think about any recent meetings you have attended that were chaired by other people.
  • Write down a list of some of the positive and negative ways that the chairs / chairmen in those meetings attempted to manage the discussions.
  • Write down any positive aspects of chairmanship you observed.
  • Write down any negative aspects of chairmanship you observed.

The remaining sections of this workbook will consider all aspects of the chairing role as well as some approaches and tactics you can consider in improving your effectiveness as a chair / chairman and tackling some of the positives and negatives you have outlined above.

The key roles of a chair / chairman

There are no hard and fast rules about how you chair a meeting. The approach you take and the style you adopt will depend largely on the nature of the meeting, the people involved and your own personality. That aside, there are some key roles that most chairs / chairmen adopt:

  • spokesperson – summing up other people’s views and being comfortable to put these across to all kinds of people, including large groups
  • organiser – making sure that everyone is prepared for meetings and knows when and where they are going to be and what is going to be discussed – for most formal committee meetings, the mechanics of this will be undertaken by the council officers
  • communicator – making sure that everyone understands what is going on before, during and after the meeting
  • action person – making sure that meetings are not just a ‘talking shop’ but have a purpose and result in action
  • mediator – sometimes finding a compromise between two people or two conflicting ideas – being fair and not letting your own feelings get in the way.

Sometimes these roles can be delegated to others, although it is important to recognise that the chair / chairman will retain the overall responsibility. For example, if you are not the world’s most efficient organiser, you may prefer to work closely with your deputy or vice-chair or one of the council’s officers in ensuring that all of the practical arrangements for running meetings are covered effectively. With any council meeting, establishing a good rapport and working relationship with the officers of the council will  help you to chair meetings more effectively.

The meetings you may be asked to chair

Chairing committee meetings

This involves working closely with officers in preparing for all meetings. In particular quasi-judicial meetings such as planning or licensing require specific attention. These will often need you to recognise the importance of report deadlines and meeting schedules and to ensure that the recommendations and actions from meetings are tracked and followed-up. Your role may also involve a degree of ‘succession planning’ where you will need to develop the skills of any vice-chairs and aspiring committee chairs.

Chairing public and informal meetings

These types of meetings involve a degree of planning for success. For example, thinking about the venue, timing, invitees, advertising etc. As well as a need for you to be able to maintain control, order and confidentiality (reputation management) and management of the process from start to finish. Council officers will be able to brief you on the full extent of your responsibilities in chairing these meetings.

Outside of this, however, you may also be asked to chair other group discussions, for example, community meetings, board meetings for voluntary or community groups, appointment panels, committees of enquiry etc. The nature of these meetings may require you to modify your approach:

  • Set the tone and style: Some meetings may be better held in settings outside of council buildings to reduce the perceived ‘formality’ of the discussions. It may also be advisable to chair the meeting in a more relaxed style, eg allowing people to talk to, question and challenge others without going ‘through the chair/chairman’. This is also important when chairing meetings using remote meeting technology. The protocols for asking questions, seeking clarification or participating in the meeting need to be set out clearly at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Encourage contributions: Discussing and deciding things ‘by committee’ may work well for much of the council’s business, but may hinder group discussions elsewhere. It may be useful to think about breaking a large gathering into smaller task groups to enable more people to contribute or to find other ways to maximise the inputs from those attending.
  • Reach decisions: Not everyone will be comfortable to commit to decisions arrived at in a group meeting, eg some people will need time to think through the actions proposed or may need to seek approval from the people they represent before signing up. As chair/ chairman, you will need to manage people’s expectations about what is realistic and achievable.
  • Act as a facilitator: At some meetings you will be required to act as a facilitator where there are one or more opposing views, in your role as a community leader or representative. This may require particular skills of tact, diplomacy and ‘neutrality’ where you are chairing the process as opposed to giving your opinions on the issues being discussed.
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“Make sure the agenda is interesting. Familiarise yourself with the topics including research if necessary. Think about officer input is it required or is the committee papers sufficient to over the topic? Plan your strategy in conducting the meeting. Have some idea of timing and keep it moving without being dictatorial. Relax and enjoy.”

Cllr Heather Goddard, South Gloucestershire Council

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Hints and tips – top tips for effective chairs / chairmen

Know the issues and topics being discussed – read the background papers, chat to fellow councillors and get briefings from your officers.

Understand the other group councillors – get to know the personalities and who helps or hinders your role.

Know how things should be done – get to know the council’s standing orders – without having to look them up.

Understand the ‘rhythm’ of the council meeting cycle – know what meetings are held when and when preparation needs to be undertaken for them.

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Challenge 2

Chairing different types of meetings

As a councillor you may be asked to chair different types of meetings in addition to the more traditional committee meetings you may be familiar with. Imagine you have been asked to chair the following. Write down how your approach might differ for each, in terms of:

  • the setting, style and tone of the meeting
  • how you could encourage useful contributions from those attending.

Write down how your approach might differ in these ways at:

  • a public meeting to discuss the growing racial tensions in your ward
  • a scrutiny meeting, with ‘expert witnesses’ from the health and community sectors, to discuss the action needed to address the local increase in rates of teenage pregnancy.

Look again at the ideas you have written down.

Are you sure that the setting and style would help to create the right atmosphere for discussion?

Would your approach encourage good contributions from a wide range of participants?

Is it likely that this style of meeting would produce some ideas for action, that is, some tangible things that could be done to address the concerns expressed by people. If not, why not?

Handling the mechanics of any meeting

There are a number of basic tasks that need to be undertaken by the chair / chairman for any committee or group meeting. This includes action before, during and after the meeting.

Preparation is crucially important and chairs / chairmen need to have read all agenda items and background papers before any meeting.
You may also wish to consult with other councillors, officers, partner agencies, ward groups or constituents on non-confidential items. Being fully briefed and confidently prepared to discuss all of the matters on the agenda will help you to concentrate on managing the timetable, discussions and personalities at the meeting – the latter may not be so easily planned for!

Before the meeting

  • Clarify the meeting’s objectives.
  • Ensure that the right people are invited to attend.
  • Ensure that all necessary documents are produced.
  • Check the venue is suitably equipped and set out.
  • Develop some contingency plans for non-attendance.
  • Prepare yourself – mentally and physically. Work with the relevant officers.

During the meeting

  • Create a good impression- welcome people and clarify roles and responsibilities.
  • Focus on what the meeting must achieve and gain commitment to the agenda.
  • Establish the ground rules.
  • Steer discussions in a structured way – manage the time and the personalities.
  • Encourage a wide variety of views and opinions.

After the meeting

  • Summarise the key points – who will do what, by when. Check if these are in line with the decision making principles of the council.
  • Ensure the minutes record key agreements, facts, opinions or quotes.
  • Agree details and timing of next meeting/s.
  • Thank everyone for their contribution.
  • Ensure that follow-up takes place – that is, progress on agreed action points.
  • Make sure the ‘important’ people are kept informed.
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Challenge 3

As a councillor you may be asked to chair different types of meeting involving the public, from formal (often decision-making) meetings to informal events, for example, information gathering or community engagement activities.

Consider how your approach may differ in the situations below, in terms of:

  • the setting and layout of your meeting venue
  • the style and tone of the meeting you wish to encourage
  • the steps you might take to maximise the useful contributions of those attending.
  1. A public meeting that has been called to discuss ideas for providing better voluntary and community support to older people in the area to enable them to ‘age well’.
  2. The last of a series of meetings to discuss the setting of a neighbourhood budget for your ward area in line with agreed priorities – final decisions have to be made at the meeting.
  3. A scrutiny meeting which is examining ways of improving the links with GPs in the area (for strategic and operational purposes) – you have asked a couple of GPs to attend as ‘expert witnesses’.

Encouraging participation and discussion

As a chair / chairman, one of your most important tasks during the meeting is to encourage participation and prompt discussion. This is primarily about creating the best conditions for others to engage in debate and come forward with their opinions and suggestions. Only through dialogue can you understand what people think and where they stand on any given subject. If you are concerned about the degree of participation

in your group, consider the following:

  • Are there only one or two main contributors to most debates?
  • Are there noticeably silent people in the group?
  • Does there look to be a rigid ‘contribution hierarchy’, where some people are reluctant to speak unless others have done so?
  • Is there a gender bias or any other form of cultural bias?
  • Does more than one person talk at once and do others appear not to listen?

If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’, you might like to consider the two main ways in which you can encourage greater participation:

  • Ask open and searching questions– probing, testing and challenging others through questioning to enable you to gather information and get to the nub of any issue under discussion.
  • Listen actively – encouraging people to speak through ‘active listening’, that is, using nods, eye contact, silence, smiles and comments to prompt others to share their views.

Questioning is a powerful and essential tool for any chair/chairman. Good questioning can enable you to:

  • get to the ‘heart of the matter’
  • gather evidence and clarify and expand on initial views or early information
  • elicit information without making respondents feel intimidated or prejudged
  • facilitate inclusion, buy-in and ownership of problems and build rapport with people.
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Hints and tips – Effective questioning

To prompt discussion you can use a range of techniques:

  • closed questions – direct questions that require a one word answer, for example, ‘yes’ or ‘no’
  • open questions – the ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘what’ type of questions that require a more expansive response
  • leading / limiting questions – questions designed to limit the range of possible answers, for example, ‘Is it true that...?’
  • soft commands – prompts which sound like questions to elicit information, for example, ‘Perhaps you could explain...’
  • paraphrasing / summarising – repeating what you have heard and asking for a clarification.

However, effective questioning is not always as easy as it sounds and will require you to think about:

  • what purpose the questioning is designed to serve, for example, to elicit information, challenge, prompt, test or encourage – Identifying possible questions in advance of the meeting is a good tip
  • making the person being questioned feel comfortable – particularly those not used to public meetings, for example using their name, talking in plain English, allowing them time for a response, summarising what they have said and using positive body language (nodding, giving good eye contact and looking attentive)
  • using the most appropriate questions to get the best response and information, for example, by their nature, ‘open’ questions should elicit a more expansive response than ‘closed’ questions, which can feel intimidating to those being questioned.

A good way of putting all of this together is to use linked phrases to move smoothly from one type of question to another, for example, “You mentioned earlier that...” It is also worth watching for some of the non-verbal signals that people send out (that is, their body language and tone) to ensure that the words people use are consistent with the other messages they are conveying!

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Challenge 4 – Preparing your questions before the meeting

Case study – Waste crime clampdown

Fly-tippers were among the targets during the biggest crackdown on waste crime ever in the district. Almost 100 commercial vehicles were pulled over for spot checks at a border patrol in the district during January. All were asked to produce their vehicle documents.

Council staff and partner agencies were particularly on the lookout for traders who charge businesses or homeowners for the removal of waste and then fly-tip illegally.

There were 19 notices issued for offences and five investigations were started which could lead to prosecutions. People were also arrested or fined for other offences:

  • three vehicles were seized by the police for insurance offences
  • two businesses will be prosecuted for trading standards offences
  • two uniforms and false paperwork were seized.

Imagine you have been asked to chair a meeting to discuss the issues arising from the ‘waste crime clampdown’ in your council.

Identify any questions you would want to raise at the meeting.

Handling conflict – dealing with the personalities

Chairing council meetings can sometimes be a demanding process because of the personalities involved. People respond in different, sometimes unpredictable, ways when trying to convince others of their point of view – particularly when this is overlaid
with the essential politics of local government. Arguments are common and conflict is not unusual. This is true enough in one to one situations, but is particularly so in group meetings. A number of psychologists have put forward theories of ‘group dynamics’ to explain this phenomenon.

A basic appreciation of how ‘group dynamics’ works is useful in understanding the ways in which groups of people tend to behave when brought together on a shared task or activity.

This can have a big impact on your ability to chair meetings effectively.

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Guidance – Tuckman's theory of 'group dynamics'

In 1965, D Tuckman set out his theory of ‘group dynamics’ in an article for the Psychological Bulletin1. He observed that different groups of people tend to go through a similar lifecycle of stages in working together.

Forming – coming together as a group, finding out about each other, deciding what the group’s concerns
and emphases should be.

Storming – coming to terms with differences within the group.

Norming – agreeing objectives, priorities, procedures and ways of relating to each other.

Performing – getting on with the work, without having to spend a lot of time and energy deciding what needs doing and how it should be done.

Tuckman’s model was developed further by Michael Argyle in his book Social Interaction.

Recognising that people often behave differently in groups can help you, tactically, to be more effective in chairing meetings. Much of this is about watching and listening to group behaviour and exercising your own judgement about when to intervene and when to sit back as discussions unfold and people exchange views or come into conflict.

For example:

  • Who contributes the most and least to group discussions – are they aware of it and could you challenge them?
  • Who are the silent people – is their silence about dissent or fear and could your intervention encourage them to be more vocal?
  • What is the atmosphere in the group – could you mediate to create more congenial conditions?
  • Have the discussions reached a sticking point – could you broker some negotiation or compromise to move things forward?
  • Does anybody impose their decisions on others – could you ask for a secret ballot to prevent this?
  • Who are the rebels, bullies, critics and scapegoats – can you employ different tactics to deal with each?

Handling the personalities is a key part of the chairing role. Similarly, you can expect a fair amount of political wrangling in council meetings. ‘Honest debate’ is a key part of council life. You are there to manage these debates and to remain impartial wherever possible. If you can avoid being the source of political disagreements that will help and being able to articulate the areas of common ground should help to build some consensus on the contentious issues. Remember your important role in ensuring that member codes of conduct are adhered to and that debate is undertaken in line with the council’s constitution and decision-making principles.

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Hints and tips – Handling conflict

The aggressor – Acknowledge the aggression in a neutral manner without taking sides (for example, by saying: "You appear to be passionate about the idea of...") and intervene by saying something like, "Councillor X has given us his view that... what do others think?" If the aggression persists, you could consider adjourning the meeting to let tempers cool and remind the aggressor of their responsibilities.

The dormouse – Don’t assume that their silence is any sign of disinterest. Ask them regularly whether they have any views to contribute and listen actively when they do. If the silence persists, chat to them outside of the meeting and ask if they are happy with their role.

The rambler – Watch the group’s body language for any signs of frustration and use polite questions or interventions to move the conversation on. If the problem persists, you may wish to consider having a time limit for individual contributions – but make sure this applies to all.

The talkative show-off – Get a word in, pounce on any pause (even just a breath) and call a halt ideally with a positive comment or a word of thanks. Then move on – selecting a new starting point or throwing the ball to someone else.

The gusher – The use of a timed agenda and good discipline will help here. If necessary you will need to intervene to summarise or ask for a summary, or focus the input on just one thing. Once the discussion is in the hands of the chair / chairman, it can be passed specifically to another participant in the meeting.

The sphinx – Outside the meeting – talk to them, identify areas of interest. Asking questions is the best route – ask an easy question to get them started. If they are well able to speak but are choosing not to do so, then ask a difficult or pointed question. Alternatively, ask for their assistance.

Those who hold separate meetings – While whispering can be constructive (a thought prompted by the discussion)
it can show a lack of understanding, bored digression or, even, plotting. Getting the meeting to pause isolates the chatter in the silence and this alone may stop it. A question may identify if there is a problem or if something is unclear. The rule of only one person talking at one time should be observed consistently.

The chip on the shoulder – Check whether the, perhaps unspecific, gripes conceal a real point. Ask the griper to be specific about their issue and possibly offer to discuss some other matter later or in another forum, may help get the distraction put on one side.

One of the key relationships here is likely to be with the vice-chair of the committee or meeting. It is not uncommon for vice-chairs to be chosen from a different political grouping to that of the chair / chairman. Whatever their political differences, the chair / chairman and vice-chair will need to work in close harmony, so it’s worth taking steps to build some rapport:

  • treat each other with respect – put aside any personal agendas, rivalries and differences you may have and focus on the business at hand
  • discuss and agree your respective roles – who will do what and when, including the arrangements required when one of you is unable to attend a meeting
  • build some trust and understanding – delegate some of your duties if both of you are comfortable with this
  • ask for feedback on your role and performance – listen to what they have to say and show them you have taken this seriously by changing or modifying your approach.
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"Effective chairing of a meeting requires good time-keeping, being inclusive of everyone in the meeting and ensuring the aims of the meeting are achieved and not letting the agenda drift.

"It’s crucial to respect everyone’s view and their right to share it with the meeting. Most importantly, try to make everyone attending the meeting feel comfortable and involved.”

Cllr Michael Payne, Gedling Borough Council

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Identify what tactics you would employ to respond as an effective chair / chairman to the following people:

  • a noisy and aggressive councillor who insists on shouting people down when they disagree with him
  • a persistently quiet councillor who looks attentive but rarely says anything without being prompted
  • a councillor who has a tendency to be long-winded in sharing her thoughts with the group to the agitation of others.

Our councillor workbook and e-learning module on Influencing skills provide tips and tools on how to manage group dynamics and the variety of personalities in meetings.

Our resources on Chairing remote meetings offer specific support related to using remote meeting technology.

The legalities of council meetings

Local authorities are creatures of statute and can only do what is in their legal powers.

Similarly, individual councillors must operate within both a legal and ethical framework – and this covers the meetings they attend. The council’s legal staff will be able to talk you through the legalities and constitutional rules of attending and chairing council committees and meetings. They will also be able to explain the conventions on ethics and probity and the standards of conduct expected of councillors.

In addition to this, chairs / chairmen should also be aware of the legalities surrounding ‘privilege’ (see text box) and ‘confidentiality’. The Access to Information Act (1985) defines some information as being ‘exempt’ from open, or public, discussion. These items can only be discussed in a closed session of any committee, away from the press or public gaze, and councillors must treat the information as confidential.

However, it is not uncommon for committee members to ask for an item to be moved to the ‘closed’ sections of the agenda in order to avoid embarrassment, eg where a political decision has led to some breakdown in service delivery, but the facts of the matter are not confidential. Unless there is a clear justification for doing so, the chair/chairman should avoid agreeing to members’ requests in these situations. If there are any doubts about the legalities involved, the council’s legal staff should again be consulted.

Chairing for success – reaching and presenting decisions

While councils thrive on meetings, these are usually formal events, rather than social occasions, and often have one clear purpose – to make decisions. Reaching decisions may require you, as chair / chairman, to act as negotiator, influencer or diplomat in enabling the group to reach a conclusion, consensus or compromise.

The following tactics can help:

  • aim for ‘win / win’ agreements wherever possible – so that everyone gets part of what they want
  • explore options together – being open to the idea that a third position may exist and that you can get to this idea through collaboration and discussion
  • listen first and talking second – understanding where people are coming from before attempting to negotiate with them
  • describe what you see rather than being judgmental – for example, “on the basis of what you’ve said, you don’t look to be supportive”
  • being empathetic – showing you understand people’s situation, needs and feelings
  • maintain your assertiveness – but avoiding displays of unnecessary emotion (weakness or aggression) and unhelpful behaviours, for example, irritators such as “I think what I’ve said is very reasonable”
  • keep people and problems separate – recognising that in many cases people are not just ‘being difficult’ – real and valid differences can lie behind conflicting positions (By separating the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without damaging working relationships. Having enabled the committee or group to reach its decisions, a final task is to ensure that the minutes of the meeting record these in a way that will ensure some action. This is usually in the form of ‘recommendations’, which should be ‘SMART’.)

This is particularly important for overview and scrutiny committees which may be recommending action by a cabinet or executive. Any recommendations that are not SMART are unlikely to influence the real decision-makers, so it’s worth spending some time getting the wording right.

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Guidance – SMART recommendations

Specific – clear about what is required and the evidence or argument to support any proposed direction.

Measurable – capable of being monitored and success or completion to be judged

Attainable – focused on what needs to be done, rather than general notions of intent

Realistic – grounded in the reality of the council’s situation, ie its staffing and financial capabilities.

Timely – set within clear deadlines, milestones or timetables for action.

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Challenge 6 – Identifying SMART recommendations

Read through the vague decisions below and write your own SMART recommendations to turn these into action points that can be addressed by the council:

  • The committee agreed that the council should host a get together of interested local people from across the borough to have a discussion about possible ways of improving domestic waste collection services – all possible options to be considered.
  • The committee agreed that some ways of funding should be identified for improving the provision of leisure services (specifically parks and gardens) in the coming months with a view to increasing customer satisfaction.

Working cross party

There are particular issues associated with chairing council meetings where there is cross-party representation. It is important to remember that you are there to chair the process rather than impose your opinions as chair / chairman. You must ensure that all parties, not just your own have equal and fair access to all information provided.

It is important to understand all points of view and look for common ground as well as to be clear about why a decision is going through and to meet groups individually if necessary. In some situations it might be necessary to bring a third party in to move the debate forward where positions risk becoming entrenched.

Above all else, this is a difficult role and as chair / chairman you might have to accept that some issues are going to be politically uncomfortable.

Final summary

Meetings are part of the lifeblood of local government and good chairmanship can have many benefits. As an effective chair / chairman, you will need to understand the key roles that you have, how to handle the mechanics of different meetings and how best to encourage participation while dealing with the personalities you face. And all of this needs to be undertaken in the context of the rules, protocols and legalities that apply to your council meetings.

This may sound like a tall order, but like most things in life, chairing skills can be learnt and time and practice in the role will help to sharpen your confidence and abilities. Equally, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling role, allowing you to contribute to the essential workings of your council and learning skills that may be useful in the other aspects of your life.

“A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours. – Milton Berle, comedian”

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Challenge 7 – Where do you go from here?

Look back over the material contained in earlier sections of this workbook and consider the following:

  • What key action points can you identify to improve the way you chair meetings, that is, what three or four things might you start doing, keep doing or stop doing?
  • Have you identified any gaps in your knowledge or shortcomings in your personal skills? If so, list these now and identify how any further training or development might help you, for example, further reading / research, attending courses, coaching, mentoring, work shadowing, and so on.

Appendix – sources of further information and support

Our Councillor hub can signpost you to our wide range of resources for councillors.

The Centre for Governance and Scrutiny provides information on chairing overview and scrutiny meetings.