Company secretaries provide guidance to company directors about how their organisations should be directed, managed or controlled. This is also known as corporate governance and it includes ensuring that the company complies with legal and regulatory requirements. Typical responsibilities of the job include:
- convening and servicing annual general meetings (AGMs)/meetings (producing agendas, taking minutes, conveying decisions, handling meeting correspondence and so on)
- providing legal, financial and/or strategic advice during and outside of meetings
- training directors and members of the senior leadership team on corporate governance matters
- keeping up to date with any regulatory or statutory changes and policies that might affect the organisation
- ensuring that policies are up to date and are approved
- providing support to the board or other committees on specific projects
- in public companies, acting as a point of contact and building good relationships with shareholders
- implementing processes or systems to help ensure good management of the organisation or compliance with legislation
- writing reports
- collating information.
- managing office space and facilities
- identifying and monitoring risks to business performance
- administering pension schemes and share issues
- dealing with company/staff insurance policies
- managing contractual arrangements with suppliers/customers
- financial and HR administration.
Company secretaries are employed across the public, private and the not-for-profit sectors: most commonly within local/national government, charities, housing associations, financial institutions and law firms. Within the private sector, employers can be found in virtually any sector because, in the UK, all public companies – those who trade on a stock exchange – are legally required have a company secretary. Additionally, while it is an optional post for private companies, many choose to have them and it is set out as a requirement in some companies’ constitutions.
Some organisations outsource their company secretary work (rather than employing a company secretary in-house) and so company secretaries can also be self-employed or work for an agency offering company secretariat services.
It is possible to become a company secretary with either school leaver or degree-level qualifications. Entry-level company secretary vacancies, sometimes known as assistant or trainee roles, often require an undergraduate degree, but a few are open to school leavers. Where a degree is requested, subjects related to law, finance and business are advantageous but not always essential.
Another entry route for graduates is to undertake a graduate programme in corporate governance.
Vacancies are advertised on jobs boards such as TARGETjobs, on the ICSA (The Governance Institute) website, by careers services and in newspapers (particularly The Guardian and The Times).
You could also move into a company secretary role after working in finance (for example, as an auditor), law (for example, as a paralegal or solicitor) or in another area related to corporate governance (for example, as a risk manager or compliance officer).
Gaining a qualification with ICSA and becoming a chartered secretary is essential for company secretaries working in public companies and strongly recommended for working in private companies. There are various routes for qualifying, depending on your academic qualifications and/or workplace experience – there are routes for school leavers, graduates and those who have worked as accountants and lawyers.
- Strong administrative skills and an aptitude for using IT software
- Commercial awareness
- Meticulous attention to detail
- Interpersonal skills
- Influencing skills
- Excellent organisation and time management
- The ability to take the initiative
- A flexible and practical approach to work
- Discretion and diplomacy.