NFP boards an exercise in learning for sports physio Libby Soderholm

From tribal belly dancing to singing in a rock band, sports physiotherapist and clinical governance specialist Libby Soderholm is always up for a challenge. So while managing two allied health service businesses, the West Australian embarked on a board career. She is now vice chair of the South Coastal Health and Community Service which provides women’s health, mental health and Aboriginal health services in Perth and also vice chair on another not-for-profit helping rural disadvantaged girls in rural WA attend school. 

What boards or committees are you currently on and why?  

I am vice chair of the South Coastal Health and Community Services- a non-for-profit organisation. I chair their finance and risk committee and sit on the clinical governance committee. I am vice chair for Shine Belong Achieve Inspire inc, a non-profit in West Australia that provides support to rural disadvantaged girls to encourage them to attend and finish school. This is something close to my heart as I grew up in the Torres Straits in north Queensland and have some understanding of the disadvantages and challenges in these environments.  

What other boards have you been on?  

I have been involved for six years with the Physiotherapy Board of Australia (Ahpra) on their notification and registration committee (as vice chair) which gave me good expertise in the area of health regulation. I have also been involved for many years with the Australian Physiotherapy Association and sit on many associated national committees in various roles. I previously sat on a local Catholic high school management board which was my introduction to boards in 2015.  

What are the areas of expertise you feel you bring to your boards? 

My main areas of expertise are business acumen, clinical governance, culture, strategy and finance. Having run private health businesses for over 29 years I have worked in all aspects of the businesses and have a good understanding of service organisations. 

When and why did you decide to pursue boards? 

I have been involved in leadership and business with the Australian Physio Association for many years and with Curtin University through clinical supervision with our businesses. I completed the AICD Company directors’ course in 2014 which was a real learning curve and I loved it.  It created a clear structure for governance. 

I then started sitting on a few local and national boards and applied for those that I felt I could contribute to. This was on top of continuing to run and managing two health allied health service businesses so it was a challenge fitting everything into the time I had. I felt being on boards would be something I would be good at and could progress into once we had sold the businesses. This happened in 2021 and within 6 months I had moved onto the two boards I’m currently on.  

What challenges and hurdles have you had to overcome along the way?

You don’t get every board role you apply for. Having not come onto boards through the traditional pathways, I have to work hard to prove my worth. I have learnt humility and that boards are looking for the best candidate based on their skill requirements. My skill set may not always fill these criteria. It’s been an interesting journey and I feel tough in the ability of being able to continue to pursue roles that I feel align with my values. Sometimes it is about the people you meet on the journey that are important. I try to enjoy the journey.  

What do you most like about your board roles?

I love the fact that it is part time now that we’ve sold our businesses, and I can give it more concentration. I enjoy the board experience of being in a group making a decision that is the best for the organisation at this point in time. I love the diversity of boards, and that everyone has the ability to contribute differently according to their experience and different backgrounds. This gives me the ability to keep learning. I am a big sky thinker and am good at analysing the decision making and assisting to ensure it is optimal.  This comes from my business background.  

Have you had mentors and/or sponsors and if so, how have they helped you? 

I have had a range of mentors who have supported and provided advice to me over the past years.  Recently I had a colleague talk me through the preparation for an important board interview and this was helpful. I find it relatively easy to ask for help from colleagues and I am generous in my time to do the same when the opportunity arises. In our businesses, I did a huge amount of mentoring and university lecturing over many years to our younger clinicians and loved giving back in this way.  

How has WOB helped you on your board journey?

WOB gave me the support and confidence to get my CV up to scratch, educate and take the opportunities being presented to me seriously. I love their podcasts and webinars which have helped me clarify my thought processes and cement my views. I will continue to progress my learning through WOB as they are a very inclusive organisation.

What are the most useful skills you have gained which have helped in your board career? 

Doing the AICD course was an eye-opener for me to the world of governance, strategy and risk.  It was like a lightbulb moment. AICD provides good governance support for current directors. WOB gave me the support and confidence to evaluate my transferable skills and take the risk to apply for positions and be OK if I didn’t get them. And to keep applying - it’s a learning curve. You always learn from failing and as long as you keep moving forward, you will keep learning.  

Any words of advice for other women starting out in their board journey?

Do your homework and learning, get a good NED CV and believe in yourself. It can be a difficult journey especially if you’re not coming from the traditional board background but if you have a lot of knowledge, it’s a shame to not share this with organisations to the best of your ability.  

Can you tell us something other people might not know about you? 

I dance and perform with a tribal bellydance troupe which is heaps of fun.  I also used to sing lead in an amateur rock band.  I quite like challenges! Oh, and I worked at the Sydney Olympics as a sports physiotherapist back in 2000.

Follow Libby on LinkedIn HERE