what does a non-executive director do

What Does a Non-Executive Director Do? (Roles, Responsibilities, & Risk)

Governance and Directorships are an essential in an era of increasing scrutiny, complex regulatory environments, and rapid business transformation, the role of a non-executive director has become an indispensable component of any business. But do you need a need a Non-executive director for your business?

It really depends and will hinge on what a non-executive can do for your business. Here’s very simple explanation on what a non-executive director does:

A non-executive director is an independent board member who can provide strategic guidance, monitor performance, and ensure accountability, fostering effective governance and responsible decision-making. Through their impartiality, diverse expertise, and objective oversight, non-executive directors play a crucial role in driving business success, enhancing stakeholder confidence, and shaping the future of business. 

There is no legal requirement to have a non-executive director. 

In the dynamic world of corporate governance, the role of a non-executive director (NED) in the UK has gained significant prominence. A non-executive director is an independent member of a company’s board who brings a fresh perspective, diverse expertise, and impartiality to the decision-making process. 

What is the difference between a director and non-executive director?

Unlike executive directors who are involved in the day-to-day operations of the organisation, NEDs provide strategic guidance, monitor performance, and ensure transparency and accountability. In this article, we will delve into the responsibilities and significance of non-executive directors in today’s business landscape.

You can read more about the differences in our FAQs towards the bottom of the page, but first let’s look more in-depth at what a non-executive director does. 

But before we dive into what a non-executive director does and have that could benefit your business the most important thing to consider is whether you need a Non-executive director in the first place. There is no doubt you will get excited by the idea of what a non-executive director can do for your business (provided you find the right one) but you must pause for just a second to establish whether there is a need or simply a want.

Does my business need a non-executive director?

Whether or not you need a non-executive director depends on the specific circumstances of your organisation and its goals. Here are some factors to consider when determining the need for a non-executive director:

Complexity and Size of the Business: If your business is large, has multiple stakeholders, or operates in a complex industry, a non-executive director can bring valuable expertise and oversight to the board. They can provide strategic guidance, independent advice, and enhance corporate governance.

Industry Knowledge and Experience: Non-executive directors with relevant industry knowledge and experience can contribute valuable insights and help navigate specific challenges or opportunities. Their expertise can complement the existing skill set of the executive team and bring a broader perspective to decision-making.

Strategic Decision-Making: If you believe your business would benefit from an external perspective in strategic decision-making, a non-executive director can provide valuable input. They can challenge assumptions, offer fresh ideas, and contribute to the development and implementation of long-term goals and strategies.

Board Composition and Independence: Non-executive directors can enhance the diversity and independence of the board. They bring different perspectives, skills, and experiences, which can help mitigate groupthink and foster robust discussions and decision-making.

Stakeholder Confidence and Accountability: Having a non-executive director on the board can enhance stakeholder confidence by demonstrating a commitment to transparency, good governance practices, and independent oversight. It can help ensure that the business is accountable to its shareholders and other stakeholders.

Succession Planning and Continuity: Non-executive directors can play a role in succession planning by identifying potential future leaders and contributing to leadership development. They can provide insights into industry trends, talent strategies, and leadership best practices.

It is essential to assess your business’s specific needs and goals before determining if a non-executive director is necessary. Consider engaging in discussions with your existing board members, executive team, or seeking advice from governance experts to evaluate the potential benefits and implications of bringing a non-executive director on board.

What are the four roles of non-executive directors?

The roles and responsibilities of non-executive directors are as follows:

Strategic Oversight

One of the primary responsibilities of a non-executive director is to contribute to the formulation of the company’s strategic direction. By assessing the competitive landscape, market trends, and risks, NEDs provide valuable insights and challenge the executive team’s assumptions. They play a crucial role in developing long-term goals, reviewing business plans, and evaluating potential growth opportunities.

Independent Advice and Counsel

NEDs act as a sounding board for the executive directors and offer independent advice based on their diverse backgrounds and experiences. They bring a fresh perspective to the boardroom discussions, challenging existing practices, and fostering innovation. By facilitating constructive debates, NEDs contribute to effective decision-making and help the company avoid groupthink.

Monitoring and Governance

Non-executive directors have a crucial role in monitoring the company’s performance and ensuring that it adheres to legal and regulatory frameworks. They oversee the financial reporting process, internal control systems, and risk management practices. By conducting regular audits and assessments, NEDs help identify potential gaps and recommend remedial actions, thus safeguarding the interests of shareholders and stakeholders.

Board Composition and Succession Planning

NEDs play a vital role in shaping the composition of the board. They participate in the selection and appointment of executive directors, ensuring that the board has the right mix of skills, experience, and diversity. Furthermore, NEDs contribute to succession planning by identifying potential candidates for key executive positions, ensuring a smooth transition and continuity of leadership.

Do you need a qualification to be a non-executive director?

Anyone can be a non-executive director as there are no specific qualifications or certifications required. However, having certain qualifications and experiences can enhance your credibility and suitability for the role. Here are some factors that are often considered when appointing non-executive directors:

Professional Experience: Non-executive directors are typically individuals who have achieved significant professional success and have a wealth of experience in their respective fields. They may have held executive roles in business, demonstrating their understanding of business operations and industry dynamics.

Industry Expertise: Having in-depth knowledge and expertise in the industry in which the company operates is highly valuable. It allows non-executive directors to contribute relevant insights, identify emerging trends, and understand the unique challenges and opportunities of the sector.

Governance Knowledge: A strong understanding of corporate governance principles, practices, and regulatory frameworks is important for non-executive directors. Familiarity with legal and compliance requirements helps them fulfil their oversight responsibilities effectively.

Financial Acumen: Non-executive directors should possess a good understanding of financial statements, financial analysis, and risk management. This enables them to review financial reports, assess the company’s financial health, and contribute to discussions on strategic financial decisions.

Networks and Relationships: Non-executive directors often bring valuable networks and relationships to the table. Their connections within the industry, access to potential partners, and ability to open doors for the company can be advantageous.

Soft Skills: Effective non-executive directors possess excellent communication and interpersonal skills. They should be able to listen attentively, facilitate discussions, challenge constructively, and build strong relationships with fellow board members and executive teams.

How do I become a good non-executive director?

While there are no strict qualifications, some business may prefer non-executive directors who have completed relevant training programs or have pursued qualifications such as an MBA, a professional director certification, or specific courses on governance. 

These credentials can demonstrate a commitment to continuous learning and professional development.

Ultimately, the selection of non-executive directors depends on the specific needs and requirements of the company, as well as the skills and expertise that can best contribute to the board’s overall composition and effectiveness.

What are the benefits of non-executive directors?

Non-executive director (NED) roles offer several benefits for individuals who take on these positions. Here are some key benefits:

Broadening Professional Experience: Serving as a non-executive director allows individuals to expand their professional experience beyond their current executive roles. NEDs gain exposure to different industries, business models, and challenges, which broadens their knowledge and understanding of diverse business landscapes.

Enhancing Networks and Relationships: Non-executive directorships provide opportunities to connect with other board members, executives, and industry leaders. Building relationships within the business community can open doors for future collaborations, partnerships, or even executive positions in other business.

Contributing to Strategic Decision-Making: Non-executive directors play a crucial role in shaping the strategic direction of a company. They contribute to discussions, provide independent advice, and challenge prevailing assumptions. The opportunity to influence high-level decision-making and contribute to the success of a business can be highly rewarding.

Intellectual Stimulation: Serving as a non-executive director offers intellectual stimulation by engaging in strategic discussions, analysing complex business challenges, and staying up-to-date with industry trends. It provides an opportunity to leverage expertise and experience to provide valuable insights and contribute to the company’s growth.

Personal Development and Learning: Non-executive directors continuously learn and develop through their board experiences. They gain exposure to different leadership styles, governance practices, and industry trends, which enhances their professional skillset and capabilities.

Prestige and Reputation: Being appointed as a non-executive director can enhance an individual’s professional reputation and credibility. It is seen as a mark of expertise, leadership, and trustworthiness. Serving on reputable boards and contributing to their success can elevate one’s professional profile.

Financial Remuneration: Non-executive directors receive compensation for their services, which can be a significant benefit. While the remuneration varies based on factors such as company size and industry, serving as a non-executive director can provide an additional income stream and recognition for the value and expertise brought to the board.

Giving Back and Making an Impact: Non-executive directors can make a positive impact on the business they serve. By providing guidance, oversight, and governance, they contribute to the success and long-term sustainability of the company. This sense of giving back and making a difference can be fulfilling and rewarding.

It is important for individuals considering a non-executive director role to carefully evaluate the benefits and responsibilities associated with the position, aligning them with their own career goals and aspirations.

What are the risks for a non-executive director?

While non-executive director roles offer numerous benefits, there are also some potential disadvantages and risks that individuals should be aware of. Here are a few:

Time Commitment: Non-executive directorships can require a significant time commitment. Board meetings, committee meetings, and other responsibilities can take up a substantial amount of time, particularly if serving on multiple boards. This can impact an individual’s ability to balance other professional and personal commitments.

Legal and Regulatory Responsibilities: Non-executive directors have legal and regulatory responsibilities, and they can be held accountable for the decisions and actions of the company. This includes ensuring compliance with laws, regulations, and ethical standards. Failing to fulfil these responsibilities can result in legal repercussions and damage to one’s professional reputation.

Liability and Risk Exposure: Non-executive directors share legal liability with other board members. In certain circumstances, they may be held personally liable for the company’s actions or financial obligations. While appropriate indemnity and insurance provisions can mitigate this risk to some extent, the potential for personal liability exists.

Limited Influence: Non-executive directors may have limited influence over the operational aspects of the business. As they are not involved in day-to-day management, they rely on the executive team to implement strategies and decisions. This can be frustrating for individuals who prefer a more hands-on role or have strong opinions on certain matters.

Potential Conflicts of Interest: Non-executive directors should be diligent in managing conflicts of interest. They must act in the best interests of the company and its stakeholders, avoiding any personal or professional conflicts that could compromise their impartiality and objectivity.

Reputation Risk: Non-executive directors are associated with the company’s performance and reputation. If the company faces controversies, financial difficulties, or governance issues, it can have an impact on the non-executive director’s professional reputation. It is crucial for NEDs to conduct due diligence and ensure they align with business that uphold strong governance practices and ethical standards.

Difficulties in Effecting Change: Non-executive directors may encounter challenges when attempting to effect significant changes within the business. Existing power dynamics, entrenched cultures, and resistance to change can make it difficult for NEDs to drive transformative initiatives or challenge established practices.

Unequal Workload and Influence: In some cases, non-executive directors may find that their workload and influence within the board are unequal compared to executive directors. This can result in a lack of meaningful engagement and decision-making authority, limiting the impact they can have on the business.

It is important for individuals considering a non-executive director role to carefully evaluate the potential disadvantages alongside the benefits. Conducting thorough due diligence on the company, understanding the expectations and responsibilities, and assessing personal capacity and suitability are crucial steps in making an informed decision.

FAQs on what non-executive directors do

What is the difference between a director and a non-executive director?

The main difference between a director and a non-executive director lies in their level of involvement and responsibility within a company.


A director, also known as an executive director, is typically an individual who holds a senior management position within the company. They are actively involved in the day-to-day operations, decision-making, and strategic management of the business. 

You can read more about their role here.

Executive directors often have specific functional responsibilities, such as CEO, CFO, CTO, or heads of departments like marketing or operations. They are responsible for implementing the company’s strategies, overseeing operations, managing teams, and driving the company’s performance.

Non-executive director (NED)

A non-executive director is an independent member of the board of directors who is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. They are appointed to provide an external and impartial perspective to the board. 

NEDs typically bring diverse industry experience, expertise, and strategic insights. Their primary role is to provide guidance, oversight, and governance to ensure that the company is managed in the best interests of its stakeholders. Non-executive directors are not employed by the company but serve in a part-time capacity.

Key Differences:

a) Involvement: Executive directors are actively involved in the operational management of the company, while non-executive directors are not involved in the day-to-day operations. NEDs focus on providing independent advice, strategic guidance, and monitoring performance.

b) Time Commitment: Executive directors typically work full-time or have significant time commitments within the company. Non-executive directors have part-time roles, serving on multiple boards simultaneously, which allows them to bring broader perspectives and experiences.

c) Independence: Non-executive directors are independent of the company’s management, meaning they are not employed by the company and have no conflicts of interest. Executive directors, on the other hand, are often employed by the company and may have vested interests in its success.

d) Expertise and Objectivity: Non-executive directors are valued for their external expertise and objectivity. They bring a fresh perspective, challenge assumptions, and provide independent advice to ensure effective decision-making and governance. Executive directors focus on implementing strategies and managing day-to-day operations based on their specific functional expertise.

Both executive directors and non-executive directors play vital roles in the governance and success of a company. The combination of executive and non-executive directors on a board brings a balance of operational knowledge, strategic insights, and independent oversight, fostering effective leadership and decision-making.

Do you get paid as a non-executive director?

Yes, non-executive directors typically receive remuneration for their services. The exact amount of compensation varies depending on various factors, including the size and complexity of the company, industry norms, time commitment, and the individual’s expertise and experience. Non-executive director fees can range from moderate amounts for smaller business to substantial fees for larger, more established companies.

The remuneration structure for non-executive directors may include a combination of fixed fees, meeting fees, and additional fees for serving on committees or taking on specific responsibilities. Fixed fees are typically an annual retainer paid to the non-executive director for their overall contribution to the board. Meeting fees are paid for attending board meetings or committee meetings. Additionally, there may be additional fees for serving as a chairman of the board or chairing committees.

It’s important to note that the payment of non-executive director fees is subject to the approval of the company’s shareholders and is disclosed in the company’s financial statements and annual reports. Transparency regarding director remuneration is essential for good corporate governance.

It is advisable for potential non-executive directors to discuss the details of remuneration, including fees and time commitments, with the company before accepting a position. This ensures clarity and alignment between the expectations of the role and the compensation provided.

Should a NED be on payroll?

Yes, a NED will be on payroll. However, they are not legally an employee, and their pay will typically be as “director’s fees”. 

Can a NED hold shares?

Yes, a NED, or non-executive director can hold shares in of the company they sit on the board of. But there might be some restrictions on how many shares they can have, as well as how they buy and sell shares. 

Do non-executive directors have contracts?

Typically, non-executive directors do not have an employment contract with the company they serve. Non-executive directors are appointed to the board and fulfil their responsibilities on a part-time basis. They are not employees of the company but rather independent individuals who provide guidance, oversight, and governance.

Instead of an employment contract, non-executive directors usually have a letter of appointment or a service agreement that outlines the terms of their appointment, roles and responsibilities, time commitment, and remuneration. This document sets out the understanding between the non-executive director and the company regarding their appointment and the expectations of their role.

The letter of appointment or service agreement may cover aspects such as the term of appointment, meeting attendance requirements, committee participation, expected time commitment, confidentiality obligations, conflicts of interest, remuneration, and termination provisions. It is important for both parties to have a clear understanding of these terms to ensure effective communication and a mutually beneficial working relationship.

While non-executive directors do not have an employment relationship, it is important to note that they have legal duties and responsibilities, which are typically outlined in company law and corporate governance codes. These duties include acting in good faith, exercising due care and diligence, avoiding conflicts of interest, and promoting the success of the company for the benefit of its stakeholders.

As with any legal arrangement, it is recommended to consult with legal professionals or governance experts to ensure that the letter of appointment or service agreement accurately reflects the specific requirements and expectations of the non-executive director role within your business.

Who appoints non-executive directors?

Non-executive directors are appointed in the same way as a new executive director would be, which is by the company’s board. 


In an era of increasing scrutiny, complex regulatory environments, and rapid business transformation, the role of a non-executive director has become indispensable. These independent board members provide strategic guidance, monitor performance, and ensure accountability, fostering effective governance and responsible decision-making. 

Through their impartiality, diverse expertise, and objective oversight, non-executive directors play a crucial role in driving business success, enhancing stakeholder confidence, and shaping the future of business. As the corporate landscape continues to evolve, the role of NEDs will remain pivotal in navigating challenges, seizing opportunities, and building sustainable enterprises.