Recap: Building the skilled leadership group webinar

It can be difficult for community groups to maintain and foster strong leadership teams. Having the right mix of suitably skilled and qualified people on committees is critical to long-term success.

The fourth webinar in our Creating Inspiring Rural Community Leadership and Engagement (CIRCLE) program looked at how community groups can harness the experience they have, identify gaps and continue to grow leadership capabilities. FRRR CEO, Alexandra Gartmann, was joined by Andrew Huffer, who drew on findings from a recent environmental scan he conducted on behalf of FRRR, and Katrina Baddeley, Executive Officer of Victorian Regional Community Leadership Program.

What is leadership?

There is a big difference between leadership and management. “Leadership is more than just formal roles in an organisation’s structure. You can be a leader from the front, behind or within your group. And it takes a combination of different types of leadership to help make you successful,” explained Alexandra.

Leadership isn’t about control either, it’s about using influence in a positive way. “Walk the talk, take the initiative, paint a compelling vision, establish common values and show appreciation – this demonstrates your commitment and passion and will help foster the same in others,” Andrew said.

Successful community leadership groups have:

  • A shared passion or vision
  • Balanced task and people focus
  • Diversity and regular change
  • Self-awareness – each person knows their strengths and weaknesses
  • Knowledge of community needs
  • Good networks to draw on ideas, expertise & action
  • A desire to nurture future leaders
  • An understanding of governance obligations.

But the type of skills required does depend on each organisation’s aim, people and life-stage. Katrina emphasised groups needed to focus on, “your organisation’s purpose and what stage you are at on that journey, the current skill level of your people and the experience of your current group of directors.”

Tools and tactics

Knowing what skills your organisation has and needs is the first step in identifying any gaps. The best way of doing this is conducting a skills audit and developing a skills register. Kat gave an example of a simple matrix-style register that can track the skills and experience of your organisation in certain areas. “It’s a manual process, but you can get your members or even volunteers to fill it out themselves. Tools like SurveyMonkey make it really easy to collate the answers and download results,” Kat said.

Once you have a register, maintain it! And remember to think laterally in terms of skills and experience because everyone’s good at something. Excellent cake-baking and garden maintenance abilities are as valuable as financial or project management skills.

When thinking more broadly, also consider how to extend your talent pool so that you aren’t relying on the same people all the time. Advisory groups and committees outside of your board and volunteers who help out on an ad hoc basis are great ways to do this.

To build leadership capacity, there are low cost approaches like mentoring, shadowing and skilled volunteering. As well as those that will require small investment, like customised, in-house group training or leadership training for individuals.

What training is out there and where to find it

The recent environmental scan undertaken by Andrew Huffer on behalf of FRRR identified 17 leadership programs across rural, regional and remote Australia. A range of programs are offered at regional, state and national levels – but there are still some gaps. “Victoria and New South Wales have the majority of courses, so the opportunities are wide open in other areas,” said Andrew.

Training delivery ranges from face-to-face, coursework, project work, online and classroom. Though Andrew explained that feedback received suggests a greater push for online training availability may overcome the participation barriers of time and cost.

Key findings for participants and providers were:



  • Not all leadership programs are the same
  • Be clear about what you are looking for
  • Consider how you can apply it - have a project in mind
  • Developing leadership skills takes time and practice – paddle, or swim?
  • Ensure you have support of your partner, family and colleagues before you start
  • There can be value in an alumni program
  • Participants often underestimate the time requirements
  • Offer a range of program levels from ‘introductory’ to ‘advanced’
  • Explore the potential for greater online delivery
  • Application through projects will help them see tangible results
  • Alumni programs provide important support ‘after the thrill has gone’

Looking at funding your own program? Consider fee for service, sponsorship, grants, government investment, scholarships, partnerships or giving circles.

The community group, Axedale – Our Town, Our Future, in the small township of Axedale in Victoria, is a great example of how the learnings in this webinar can help achieve longevity and success for community groups by investing in their people. They used the Regional Development Victoria

toolbox to conduct a skills audit, fostered beneficial alliances and partnerships and provide regular formal training for committee members.

More information

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Other useful resources include:


People and process

Grant seeking

Scholarships for leadership development


Next webinar

Save the date for our fifth CIRCLE webinar on 25 June 2015. This session is for legally established philanthropic community foundations, or those who want to explore this structure as an option for their community. Freehills lawyer, Alice Macdougall will be on hand to offer advice about good governance for community foundations.

To learn more about community foundations, visit Australian Community Philanthropy’s website.

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