Leadership in Volunteer Programs
Regardless of your title, if you lead volunteers you are in a position which requires you to continuously learn and refine leadership skills. Through your guidance, you have the potential to support volunteers to achieve great outcomes when they invest time in your organisation. As leaders of volunteers, we have an obligation to our volunteers, our organisation and to ourselves to develop and improve our leadership capability. Whether you are new to volunteer management or a seasoned professional, there are always opportunities to learn and improve your leadership skills.
A good starting point is to think about the kind of leader you aspire to be; what is your leadership vision? Defining your leadership vision will provide you with direction, inspiration and guidance when making decisions. A good leadership vision is founded on your personal values as well as the goals you hope to achieve. Lastly, be clear and honest in identifying the skills and experience you need to become the leader you hope to be.
Once you commit to learning and improving your leadership skills the possibilities are endless. Enhancing your ability to lead through connecting with peers and leaders you admire and taking guidance from their style can be a powerful resource for your own leadership journey. Some ideas may include:
Connecting and Observing
- Become a mentee or mentor: Either through a formal program or informally, being involved as a mentee or mentor provides an incredible opportunity to develop and practice leadership skills.
- Join peak bodies and networking groups: We can learn so much from sharing and listening to each other’s experiences in leading volunteers.
- Connect in person or online with others who lead volunteers: LinkedIn and Google Groups have a number of useful forums.
- Observe and learn from leaders within your organisation: For leaders who you admire, take note of the qualities they possess which make them a great leader. For leaders who are less inspiring, consider the attributes they possess or don’t possess which limit their effectiveness.
- Volunteer: To gain a deeper understanding of your volunteers experience and how they view and respond to their leaders.
- Check in: Regularly speak with your volunteers and staff about their experiences. Visit them in their workplace and seek to understand their challenges and accomplishments.
- Build leadership capability in others: Show genuine appreciation for your team (volunteers and staff) to empower and improve their skills i.e. through coaching.
Actively seeking knowledge and taking the time to develop your self-awareness are also key steps to developing your leadership skills. Some ideas may include:
Learning and Reflecting
- Embrace learning and be informed: Be fearless in learning different leadership styles, current trends and research in leadership, volunteering and volunteer management. This can be achieved by reading, listening to podcasts, attending courses, workshops and seminars.
- Subscribe to blogs and online journals: Reading about leadership and volunteer management can be inspiring and educational.
- Complete a SWOT analysis on your leadership skills: Understand your strengths and utilise them. Understand your weaknesses and work to improve them.
- Request feedback: Asking peers, colleagues and volunteers for feedback either through a formal 360 degree assessment or informally can help you identify blind spots.
- Reflect and practice self-awareness: Frequently reflect on your behaviour. What did you do well? What can you improve on? Having a growth-mindset where there are no mistakes, only opportunities to learn and grow can be advantageous for improving leadership capability.
- Experiment and challenge yourself: Focus on learning and developing a new skill regularly i.e. emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, effective communication, strategic planning etc.
- Focus on your health and wellbeing: Being aware of your own stress levels, being mindful and undertaking restorative practices will ensure tasks are undertaken with renewed focus and commitment.
As a leader, having the courage to look at yourself and to be honest about the areas you need to improve will ultimately be the measure of your success. Once you have done this you can then identify and implement actions which will truly aid your growth as a leader.
What actions have you have taken which have helped develop your leadership skills?