The presidential term of office

Should the Society's key honorary term be longer?

When reading Gene Johnson’s article in the March 2015 edition of OP Matters, I considered my experiences with the BPS, and Johnson’s discussion of the BPS Strategic Plan 2015–2020. As I reflected, I pondered: if a FTSE 100 company changed its CEO every year, you might expect limited long-term development and success from that organisation. So why does the BPS change its leader, i.e. the President, every 12 months? The President and President Elect work as a team over a two-year period, but this does not change the fact that there is a new leader every year. As Johnson states, ‘we know that changing the Society culture... will take some time’ (2015, p.38), so why have five different people try to lead the implementation of the Strategic Plan?

Yes, the Society has a CEO, Professor Ann Colley, who has been in post since 2008. But I was unaware of this: the Psychologist editor had to point it out to me. A search of the BPS site for her name produces few results, she doesn’t appear on the Society’s Wikipedia page, and the Strategic Plan contains not a single mention of her or her position. This suggests that the leadership of the BPS resides within the role of President. So how can an organisation achieve significant and lasting change, as proposed in the Strategic Plan, when its leader changes so frequently? A quick comparison of similar organisations shows the Royal College of Psychiatrists elects their President for three-year terms and a President of the Royal College of Physicians averages about four years in post, although elections are held every year.

What then is the answer? Firstly, I hope this letter can kick-start a valuable conversation on the role and responsibilities of the President concerning the leadership of the BPS. However, if anyone says, ‘Well, we (the BPS) are different’, please shoot them. After you have called an ambulance, administered first aid and applied the safety catch to your weapon, try to find evidence of organisations and companies operating successfully when they have a continual turnover of leaders. We are not different and it’s time to decide if we want to evolve and deliver on the Strategic Plan, or any plan for that matter. If so, we need long-term leadership from a visible leader, who I believe should be the President.

I urge the BPS to analyse the evidence concerning the effects of long-term stable leadership and short-term changing leadership on the success of organisations, and decide if evidence-based practice is what we do ourselves, or just something we recommend for others.

Tim Artus
BFPO 109

Johnson, G. (2015). The future of the Society? Get member-focused. OP Matters. Issue 25, pp.38–40.

Reply from Carole Allan, BPS Honorary General Secretary: Our President is the figurehead for the organisation and chairs our Board of Trustees, which is the governing body. The President has no powers over and above those of other Trustees, who share the responsibility for the governance of the Society and its strategic leadership. The presidential position is taken as part of a three-year term to ensure continuity, but also to allow a period of gathering knowledge (the year as President Elect) and overlap (the year as Vice President) to ensure that there is cover for events or meetings that the President is unable to accommodate. The Chief Executive has the delegated responsibility for the administration of the Society’s affairs, leads the Society’s staff and represents the Society at relevant meetings and events with her counterparts in other organisations.

The issue of the term of office for the presidency has been raised periodically, and the pros (e.g. continuity) versus cons (e.g. the danger of restricting the field due to the enhanced load over a prolonged period) have been debated, but no clear mandate for change has emerged. Times have changed, and the Board of Trustees will again start the process of reviewing key positions within our governance structure as part of a review of governance that has been initiated. The conversation therefore has commenced, evidence will be gathered and more information will follow later this year.

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