Communication skills are one of the most underestimated requirements of the company secretarial role, believes HKICS Past President and HKICS Prize 2014 awardee, Neil McNamara FCIS FCS. In this extract from his speech as Guest of Honour at the HKICS Convocation 2015, he urges his fellow professionals to develop their presentation skills so their voices can be heard.

Company secretaries can undertake a wide range of differing roles in organisations depending on their skills and interests. This is one of the attractions of the profession. Of course, you can find yourself specialising in investor relations, human resources, or property management, depending on where your skills and interests lie. But one skill which is increasingly becoming a ‘must-have’ for anyone who wants to progress to the senior levels of the profession, and a skill which is rarely included in our formal training, is the ability to convince, influence and persuade.

The role of the company secretary has evolved over recent years. We have, to put it simply, taken on a much more vocal and influential role in the decision-making process of the organisations we work for. We attend the meetings of the board and board committees and we attend management meetings. As such, we are close to the heart of the workings of the business. We are expected to add our expertise and knowledge to ensure that the organisation makes the right decisions in an increasingly unforgiving business environment.

In this context, the traditional measures of competency for members of our profession have changed. We still need to have an excellent and up-to-date knowledge of the rules and regulations relevant to the organisation we work for. We still need to have the attention to detail that enables us to ensure that corporate disclosures are accurate and timely and that the board meetings are held successfully.

In short, we still need the traditional skills required of the company secretary when this position was regarded as largely a ‘back office’ function. But today, the potential of the role has expanded considerably. So I would urge, particularly the new recruits to our profession, not to neglect that elusive and hard-to-define quality – the ‘gravitas’ you bring to the role.

To be a senior adviser to the board and senior management on matters such as corporate governance, compliance and risk management, you will need to be knowledgeable about the wider context within which your organisation operates. You will also need to have sufficient ‘presence’ and influence with your colleagues to ensure that your advice is given the respect it deserves.

You will need to develop skills in public speaking so your voice can be heard.

I always found it odd that when we set up our continuing professional development courses we would get 500 people turning up to learn about the Companies Ordinance, but only six for presentation skills. I suspect those six have progressed further in their careers than the 500. They understood what was needed to stand out.

You will also need to learn how to articulate your case in a positive manner so your advice is sought out. Some years ago I worked in an office in London with a more elderly company secretary – or he seemed elderly then, but was younger then than I am now which is a scary thought. His favourite response to any question from management was ‘You can’t do that!’. He felt his power came from his ability to say no. He was wrong – management used to bypass him as he was seen as an obstacle to progress.

A good company secretary should see his or her role as facilitating the company’s development and helping management chart a course through the regulatory minefield. Be seen as a positive player and you will be consulted. You will not always be able to say ‘yes’, but don’t always be seen as saying no.

The wider role of the company secretary is now much better recognised among the key stakeholders of our profession. The profile of the company secretary among regulators, companies, practitioners, etc, is more robust today than it was 10 years ago. This role and status is yours to claim.

So, with this, I would like to congratulate all the awardees on being elected fellows, associates and graduates of the Institute. I have full confidence that you will rise to the challenges before you, and bring new perspectives and contribute to the profession in the years to come. I wish you every success in what I am certain will be very interesting, fulfilling and rewarding careers as Chartered Secretaries.

The Institute’s annual convocation celebrates the achievement of newly elected fellows and associates and newly qualified graduates. The HKICS Convocation 2015 was held on 16 September 2015. Photos of the event are available in the Institute News section of this month’s journal (see page 43), and on the Gallery section of the Institute’s website: