Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


CSR heads require nous, not technical knowledge

September 2009

The ideal head of corporate responsibility must have excellent communication and networking skills, the ability to influence people, a certain gravitas and plenty of commercial acumen – but not necessarily any detailed knowledge of CSR matters.

That’s the conclusion of an analysis of the essential attributes of the head of corporate responsibility role that lays out eight criteria that recruiters should look for.

The study, compiled by Cranfield University’s Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility and the London-based recruitment agency Odgers Berndtson, concludes that a successful CSR director ‘will not be a pure corporate responsibility specialist who is rooted in technical knowledge and expertise, but rather a well-rounded and sophisticated communicator who is familiar with the business’.

As a consequence, it suggests, companies might do better to look for internal candidates from other departments, rather than searching for corporate responsibility specialists from outside.

Stuart Morton, a partner at Odgers Berndtson who led the study, said: ‘The message from our research seems to be that technical expertise can be acquired, accessed within the team or found externally – but that the key attributes are a deep understanding of the business, credibility within it and sponsorship at the board table.’

The study says good communication skills are ‘absolutely paramount’ given the need to convey a vision of corporate responsibility to all levels of a company. Allied to this, good CSR directors need to be ‘exceptional’ influencers who are able to make a big impact with only a small amount of authority, direct power or budget. An ability to network is also needed, both internally and externally, while communication and influencing skills must extend to having a good appreciation of how to manage stakeholders and explain complex arguments to them.

Other attributes identified as being vitally important are resilience, tenacity and a degree of ‘toughness’, which is needed to overcome scepticism and to gain buy-in of the CSR agenda, as well as to accept that many successes will be attributed to the board. An ability to innovate is also important to keep the internal CSR agenda ‘current and relevant’, while gravitas delivers credibility at board level and ensures arguments are listened to. Additionally, commercial acumen is ‘absolutely critical’ if the business case for corporate responsibility is to be made.

‘Key competencies’ of a head of CSR:

  • Communication
  • Resilience
  • Influencing
  • Innovation
  • Networking
  • Gravitas
  • Commercial acumen
  • Stakeholder management

Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility | Global | CSR

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