How to Be an Executive Director Professionally

An executive director is the most senior executive in an organization and reports directly to the board of directors. Like a CEO, their primary role is to operate the organization daily and implement strategic plans by designing and developing them to be efficient with both time and cost. It is a difficult position with lots of responsibility and high-level planning.

Are you looking to propel yourself into this type of position? This leadership role is not for the faint of heart but can be rewarding and motivating as it raises your status and worth within the company and the business sector.

What does it take to make it there? Here are the steps to becoming an executive director.

1. Get Educated

The executive director most often works for a nonprofit organization, so their training must complement this field. A college or university degree is preferred with a related field such as:

  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Law
  • Social work

The skills obtained through this education will prepare them for the various tasks asked of them in this position.

2. Executive Coaching

With all that you have accomplished to work toward the executive director level, wisdom is still the best teacher, as long as it is someone else’s.

Powerful top executives are available to share their experience because they have already travelled where you venture. What they offer is vital to stepping in and commanding the executive director role.

You will grow into your position as a leader who can confidently make better decisions because of the vital insight and training that an executive coaching program offers. There is one-on-one coaching to help you overcome any hurdles you face and bring together like-minded business leaders and executives that empower you with a model of success and long-term strategy for your coveted position.

Becoming an executive director puts you in a position to implement your vision and follow through on your commitment to the nonprofit. You get to work for a cause close to your heart and lead it to success through sound decision-making, positive relationships and strategic influence.

This is how to be an executive director. Follow this path and attain these requirements for the best chance to attain this role. Then when the opportunity comes, put yourself up and step into this position confidently, knowing you are truly ready to lead.

3. Get Experience

No one leaves their dorm and lands a job as an executive director. Beyond the knowledge obtained at school, you need to get your hands dirty in the corporate trenches, picking up skills and abilities.

Work your way up in different corporations or nonprofits in lower management and learn additional information like:

  • Financial management
  • Federal and provincial legislation for voluntary sector organizations
  • Knowledge of human rights and employment standards
  • Taxation, CCP and EI standards
  • Health coverage legislation
  • Leadership and management fundamentals for nonprofits

Becoming competent in various aspects of the voluntary and nonprofit ethos is essential to reach this position.

4. Be Competent

You can get the training and experience, but to obtain the level of executive director, your behavioural competence must reign supreme.

Some key competencies are:


Use effective and appropriate communication tools to interact with people while speaking, listening and writing.


You must be able to develop and monitor work schedules while setting priorities and tracking details, activities and information.


This role requires flexibility and versatility as the landscape and environment change, and you must be able to tolerate it.


You must be able to positively influence the people you manage and the board of directors you answer to to get the best results.


The ability to identify issues, gather necessary information and implement a resolution is vital in the role.

Decision Making

Many issues and decisions require immediate attention to prioritize their urgency and to resolve promptly.

Influence You must be able to inspire trust to convince key decision-makers and stakeholders as you communicate with sound reasoning and a persuasive manner.

Effective Management

Besides leading your team, you must recognize talent and delegate responsibilities to empower those around you to shine and adopt mutual respect.

5. Be Available

A typical C-suite job have you working business hours with the occasional extended night for client relations. As an executive director, your workload may get bigger and longer as needed.

There are the usual office environment work hours and work week, but you need to be available for board meetings outside of this timeline. This will take up some evenings, occasional weekend work, and even travel for public events where you represent the organization.