Different kinds of governors, with similar roles in other public bodies such as housing associations and police authorities, feel unsure about their roles and sometimes powerless to perform them.
They say they lack the information and the authority to hold their headteacher or director to account.
The report, Rubber Stamped?, based on in-depth interviews with 25 governors and 21 senior executives in a range of public bodies, says executive powers are left unchecked and organisations left unaccountable to the communities they serve.
Meanwhile, some directors have their own doubts about their governors'
abilities and sideline them on major decisions.
The report was produced by Jane Steele and Greg Parston of the Office for Public Management (OPM).
Jane Steele said: "Many school governors are worried because they are unable to carry out their roles fully or effectively. This is a common experience amongst members of police authorities, non-executive directors in the National Health Service, board members of housing associations and government bodies as well.
"The effect is that the commitment, time and skills of governors are being wasted; there are insufficient checks and balances to the power of senior managers and staff who do not receive the support and direction they need; and public services are not fully accountable to the public."
One school governor told the report's authors: "Until recently, we were just a sounding board. The head hid behind us, blamed us for unpopular decisions. We were complacent and had the wool pulled over our eyes."
But some heads claimed they were doing all the work - and would perhaps be better off without a governing body.
"They rubber-stamp strategic direction. Too much is driven by me. In the minutes, it says 'the governors agreed', but I did it. It's frustrating. I would do it with or without the governing body," said one head.
The OPM recommends developing a code of practice, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of governors, and setting out the standards of governance expected in public services.
"Rubber Stamped? The expectations and experiences of appointed public service governors", by Jane Steele and Greg Parston, price pound;19, is available from OPM, 252b Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8XG, tel: 020 7239 0893, or see www.opm.co.uk