What is leadership?

Watch our short video that explains how to be an effective leader. It covers the six essential features of a good leader and six skills recognised in the Social Leadership Capabilities Framework that can help leaders in social and ethical organisations.


To be an effective leader, you need to know the difference between management and leadership. There is considerable overlap between the two, but an organisation needs both. Inspiring leaders must be someone with management skills who can convert a vision into action. A manager would focus on planning, improving today, and organising the future.

A leader would focus on vision, shaping tomorrow, and creating the future.  In a large organisation, the chief executive focuses on leadership. In a smaller organisation, leaders don’t have that luxury. The director may be dealing with strategy in the morning and reorganising office files in the afternoon.

Here are six essential features of a good leader.

  • Building trust by being a role model for the organisation, but remembering trust is a two-way process.
  • Demonstrating courage by taking firm action when necessary, making difficult or unpopular decisions.
  • Challenging views when needed, but with a focus on improvement and encouraging individuals.
  • Providing focus to a team and their priorities and striving towards the vision for the organisation.
  • Communicating effectively by listening as well as talking.
  • Consulting people before making decisions to gain commitment from the wider team and being clear about what they are asking.

Here are six skills recognised in the Social Leadership Capabilities Framework that can help leaders in social and ethical organisations.

  • The Empowering Enabler who empowers others to take on new challenges and training.
  • The focused strategist who continuously seeks organisational improvement for their people.
  • The passionate advocate who is committed to the mission and their people.
  • The generous collaborator who seeks to establish and grow collaborative partnerships and relationships.
  • The courageous changemaker who drives change and is unafraid of taking risks in a responsible way.
  • The inspirational communicator who relates to others with authenticity.

Leaders can use this framework to reflect and assess their current skills, identify leadership gaps and plan the personal and professional development for themselves and their team.

Managing volunteers

Watch our short video that explains how to manage and support volunteers.

If your organisation uses volunteers, you will need someone to recruit, train and support them. This may be someone different from the person who deals with them day-to-day. This role is often called a volunteer manager or volunteer coordinator.

In smaller organisations, someone will often be doing this role alongside their main duties. If so, they should be given adequate time and support to manage volunteers.

Volunteers will need support and supervision, and this varies depending on how complex or hazardous the task is. A good way to supervise volunteers is by meeting with them regularly. This can also help build a good working relationship.

You could talk about:

  • what they are enjoying in their role
  • their successes or difficulties, or
  • any future support or training they might need.

It can be hard to talk to each volunteer, especially if you are responsible for many, but it’s essential for the opportunity to give and receive feedback.

Make it clear who volunteers can contact if they have a problem, and when help is available. If volunteers are available in the evenings or at weekends, you may need to offer support at those times.

Some voluntary roles will be easier to supervise than others. If volunteers are at home or in the community, you won’t be able to check what they are doing all the time.

Give people the resources and guidance to help them be as independent as possible. A reporting or logging system helps see what volunteers have done. A debrief at the end of a shift let volunteers talk through their tasks and any concerns.

Make sure it’s clear to everyone who has responsibility for supervising volunteers. This might be a different person from the one who recruited them.

A voluntary role that is emotionally demanding or a very specialist like social care, counselling or psychotherapy means they might need more supervision. Make it clear how they will get this so they can meet professional or ethical standards.

The feedback you get from volunteers is vital to providing a good experience. You can learn what they enjoy about volunteering or what might be causing problems. You can also find out how useful the training and support you offer is for their role.

Volunteers are often the best support for each other. Make it easy for them to speak and learn from their colleagues. You can do this by setting up group sessions, having a buddy system or online groups.

Some of your organisational policies need to cover voluntary roles, as it may be your organisation’s legal duty.

You may need specific organisational policies or procedures for your volunteers, and these can also define the values and principles you want them to follow.

It’s important to consider any risks associated with your voluntary roles. There are all kinds of risks, from health and safety, safeguarding and professional boundaries to financial, reputational, and organisational risk.

Leading through challenges

Watch our short video that explains how lead through challenges.

During your time as a leader, your organisation will encounter challenges and periods of change. This can be difficult for you and the team, so it’s a good idea to have some strategies in place to get help.

When you are faced with a challenge or crisis, you often need to act quickly – sometimes even before you have all the facts. Despite this, it’s important to make sure that you bring your team along with you and one of the key factors is communication. Information should be provided to everybody involved in a transparent and open way.

Information is powerful as it:

  • reduces the emotional distress caused by the unknown
  • diminishes fear,
  • provides tactical guidance, and
  • demonstrates to employees that their leaders are concerned, involved, knowledgeable when dealing with a situation.

During challenging times, it’s more important than ever for a leader to take charge and show they are in control of a situation. As a leader, make sure that you are accessible, and that people know how to contact you. Recognise people’s emotions, show respect by listening, and also consider what is not being said.

When the challenge or crisis subsides and things go back to normal, it’s useful to look at what happened and consider ways that can make your organisation more robust for future challenges.

Managing change within your organisation is often strategically necessary but can fail more times than it succeeds. To ensure you have a better chance, be clear about the outcomes and results you expect. What you say and do as a leader affects how people respond, and in turn, how successful the results are. Although formal processes can be put in place, it’s useful to remember that understanding the practical side can take time and the human side of change can be forgotten. When change happens, an effective leader will recognise the importance of engaging everyone involved whilst remembering that people need time to adapt.

Effective change is about leading people and not just the process. If you have the commitment from the people involved, then change is more likely to happen.

This five-step framework is useful for leading through change.

  • Let go of what you can’t control and lead on what you can. This enables you and your team to focus and achieve what’s needed.
  • Change can be an opportunity to learn and grow, and in turn, brings the chance to explore new ground.
  • Communicate clearly at all stages by being open and honest with your team. Give them as much information as you can, and make sure you let them know what’s happening.
  • Let your team know the changes that are taking place. Help them build upon their existing strengths and skills, this will help them to continue feeling motivated and engaged.
  • Recognise the efforts of your team by telling them their positive response to the changes is valued. Highlight specific instances where you valued their support and ability to adjust.

Getting the best from your team

Watch our short video that explains how to get the best from your team.

For an organisation to be successful and effective, it is crucial to have a team that is engaged and motivated. Although everybody can have different motivations at different times, there are certain things you can do to maximise the potential for engagement from the team.

A happy team will ensure a productive workplace, and there’s a lot a leader can do to support this.

  • Communication is essential.
    Be open and honest with your team by making sure they have a clear understanding of your organisation’s mission, vision and plans. Listen to their ideas and give them feedback.  Positive feedback can increase engagement so don’t wait to give it in periodic appraisals. Negative feedback is just as important and should be fair and focussed, but ensure people have time to respond.
  • Show your team they are valued.
    Voluntary, community and social organisations are rarely able to offer financial rewards to their paid or unpaid employees, so find other ways of showing recognition. This could be anything from a verbal, written, or public acknowledgement of praise, or providing refreshments for the next team meeting. Giving extra responsibilities can show that you trust and have confidence in the team, but make sure they are comfortable with this and have the necessary skills and training required.
  • Offer opportunities for training and development.
    There are a lot of formal training courses available, but don’t feel restricted to these.  Look at opportunities for networking and support sessions with people in similar roles both in your organisation and externally. Give people time to shadow or become mentors.
  • Provide clear and realistic goals, targets, and objectives to the team.
    It’s hard to be effective if team members have no guidance on their objectives. Where possible, involve the team in setting the goals, as well as other organisational decisions. A team will feel more involved and motivated if they have the opportunity to contribute.
  • Try to avoid disputes at an early stage.
    Conflict can happen when descriptions of roles are unclear when there is a lack of support or just a clash of personalities. Disputes can have a detrimental effect on team morale and performance. The risk of conflict can be reduced by having clear roles, responsibilities, good leadership, and communication. Conflict can’t always be avoided though so try to spot it early, meet with those involved and mediate to resolve any issues.

Find out what motivates your team, in order give you an understanding of what is important to them as individuals. If an individual needs flexibility in their role what are the options and is it relevant. If they need more or less support, find a way to build this into your framework. If the needs of the team or organisation as a whole are being met, then responding to individual needs can be one of the most effective ways to build a loyal and engaged team.


Good governance

Watch our short video that explains good governance.

To ensure that you have a well-run, efficient organisation that complies with laws and regulations, and that sustains a good reputation whilst making a difference based on its targets it will need good governance.

Although a board of trustees are responsible for governance, they rely on employees, volunteers, advisors and other stakeholders.

A useful tool that helps charities and their trustees with their governance is called the Charity Governance Code. The code is also useful for not-for-profit organisations that deliver a public, community or social benefit but is not a legal requirement.

The code has the following set of principles.

  • Organisational purpose
    The board is clear about the charity’s aims and ensures that these are being delivered effectively and sustainably. Charities exist to fulfil their charitable purposes. Trustees have a responsibility to understand the environment in which the charity is operating and to lead the charity in fulfilling its purposes as effectively as possible with the resources available.
  • Leadership
    Every charity is led by an effective board that provides strategic leadership in line with the charity’s aims and values. Strong and effective leadership helps the charity adopt an appropriate strategy for effectively delivering its aims. It also sets the tone for the charity, including its vision, values, and reputation.
  • Integrity
    The board acts with integrity. It adopts values, applies ethical principles to decisions and creates a welcoming and supportive culture that helps achieve the charity’s purposes. The board is aware of the significance of the public’s confidence and trust in charities.  It reflects the charity’s ethics and values in everything it does. Trustees undertake their duties with this in mind.
  • Decision-making, risk and control
    The board makes sure that its decision-making processes are informed, rigorous and timely, and that effective delegation, control and risk assessment, and management systems are set up and monitored.  The board is ultimately responsible for the decisions and actions of the charity, but it cannot and should not do everything.
  • Board effectiveness
    The board works as an effective team, using the appropriate balance of skills, experience, backgrounds, and knowledge to make informed decisions. The board has a key impact on whether a charity thrives. The tone the board sets through its leadership, behaviour, culture and overall performance is critical to the charity’s success.
  • Equality, diversity and inclusion
    The board has a clear, agreed and effective approach to supporting equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the organisation and in its own practice. This approach supports good governance and the delivery of the organisation’s charitable purposes. Addressing equality, diversity and inclusion helps a board to make better decisions.
  • Openness and accountability
    The board leads the organisation in being transparent and accountable. The charity is open in its work unless there is good reason for it not to be. The public’s trust that a charity is delivering public benefit is fundamental to its reputation and success, and by extension, the success of the wider sector.

The code can be found at www.charitygovernancecode.org


Leadership in a digital world

Watch our short video that explains leadership in a digital world.

Digital tools can improve your organisation’s capabilities and capacity, but it can be difficult to know where to start. You need to ensure that you have the right skills to use them effectively.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has produced some tips for running a digital skills programme.

  • Think strategically
    Combine digital training with existing strategies, this will help you get commitment across the organisation and makes it more likely your programme will succeed. Consider strategic aims when assessing your skills gap and planning training. Content needs to be relevant to your organisation.
  • Engage leaders and trustees
    Digital needs to be part of the organisation’s culture. Support from the leaders and trustees is vital as they have the influence and authority for long-lasting change.
  • Listen and adapt
    Listen to the feedback, comments, and suggestions from your users. As your programme grows their insight will help increase engagement, attendance, and impact.
  • Build confidence
    You don’t need people to become experts, but you do want people to feel confident enough to try something new. Focus your sessions on building confidence by using group discussions, fun and practical exercises, and easy to follow tips.
  • Build engagement
    Focus on the people who are engaged and enthusiastic first and use them to encourage others who are less interested or worried about their digital skills. Offer one-to-one as well as group sessions to ensure everyone participates.
  • Collect data
    Data will help you review your programme and discover what impact it has. Collecting attendance and evaluation feedback at the end of a session will enable you see what’s working and what needs to be improved.
  • Use internal communications
    Use a range of communications within your organisation to remind people about upcoming sessions. This can include email, chat posts, posters or desk flyers. Focus on reasons why people should attend a session and try to use informal language and focus on words such as learning, sharing, confidence, effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Plan learning options
    Use your survey to find out how people in your organisation prefer to learn. Include practical exercises, discussions, guides and external resources in your sessions.
  • Make it scalable
    Focus on delivering effective sessions and keeping the programme manageable. You can add more as your programme progresses.
  • Have fun
    The more approachable and friendly you can make your programme, the more likely you are to engage your colleagues. By using amusing images, quotes, soundbites, and videos you can liven up presentations and it will make learning more appealing.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has produced a useful tool for you to assess your current digital maturity and how this compares to other organisations. You can start the checkup at digital.checkup.scot