The Chairman's Activities in Guiding the Work of a Committee

The Chairman’s activities in guiding the work of a Committee

An essential role of chairmen is to ensure that a Committee conducts its business in the manner he/she deems appropriate, in the light of the Rules of Procedure and his/her understanding of the mandate and the wishes of the conference.

Secretary-General Meets New Chairman of ACABQ

Secretary-General Meets New Chairman of ACABQ

To this end, the Chairman can use four different techniques (or combinations thereof) set out in the following sections. He/she can:

  1. grant permission and allow things to happen
  2. facilitate their happening
  3. indirectly cause them to happen, and/or
  4. do them himself or herself


1. Allowing things to happen

The Chairman keeps order by selectively permitting some activities and/or deciding when they take place.


  • a Committee cannot undertake any formal activity if the Chairman (or Vice-Chairman) is not chairing
  • the conference is not in session until the Chairman says so
  • no delegate may speak (formally) without permission from the Chair and the Chair can withdraw that permission
  • the conference cannot act (e.g. start discussion on an agenda item) unless the Chair permits it
  • the conference has not made a decision until the Chair confirms it
  • the conference is in session until the Chair declares it closed

But just as keeping a gate shut blocks activity, opening it permits the same activity.

Thus, for example, the PGA:

  • opens the first Plenary meeting of each session, thus enabling the delegations to start work and
  • initiates each action or decision (e.g. closure of discussion on one agenda item and proceeding to the next)

Similarly, the Chairman of a Committee

  • opens the first Committee meeting, thus enabling the delegations to start work on the agenda items that have been allocated to it, and
  • initiates each action or decision (e.g. closure of discussion on one agenda item and proceeding to the next)

2. Facilitating the work of the conference

The Chairman has many techniques at his/her disposal for facilitating the work of the conference, including:

  • allowing adequate time for debate and informal consultations
  • resolving any issues over procedure, thereby enabling the conference to continue its work in the appropriate manner
  • suspending the session for informal consultations

3. Indirectly causing things to happen

Examples of this technique include:

  • inviting a delegate to make a statement
  • suggesting that informal consultations take place
  • appointing a ‘Friend of the Chair’ or facilitator to conduct consultations or to try to find consensus on a particular issue
  • asking the secretariat to provide a particular service (e.g. interpreter service for a night session)

4. Personal initiatives by the Chairman

Ultimately (many experienced chairmen say ‘as a last resort’), the Chairman can play a very ‘hands on’ role. He/she can, for example:

  • personally convene a contact group and chair it
  • act as intermediary, facilitator or ‘broker’ to resolve disagreements among delegates
  • propose a procedural step, such as laying an issue aside or referring it to another body
  • present formulations or whole draft texts to the Committee in his/her own name (as further explained below)

The Chairman as organizer

The Chairman accepts responsibility for seeing that the Committee performs and completes its work. Thus he/she plans, oversees and leads:

    • the development of a program of work, including:
      • the allocation of work to committees and other subsidiary bodies
      • the allocation of time for each task (e.g. for the discussion of an agenda item)
    • the execution of the work program, whereby he/she:
      • initiates debate on each agenda item
      • ensures that the debate is orderly
      • initiates decision-making
      • ensures that results are recorded