Strong leadership is essential to sustaining community coalitions. Having a leader who takes responsibility for the success of the coalition by setting the public agenda for change, brokering connections among people and resources, and leveraging additional or new resources for projects can go a long way in supporting the longevity of a coalition. Effective leaders see the big picture. Jane Callahan, Director of the National Coalition Institute and former Director of Fighting Back Partnership of Vallejo, California agrees that leaders should “Look for trends and opportunities and 'creatively' align strategies with emerging opportunities.”
This follow-up article to the May 20, 2004 “Sustaining Coalitions: Key Elements” seeks to detail important principles of leadership that help coalitions improve effectiveness and sustainability over time. Coalitions that effectively address local problems are typically made up of diverse members of the community. The challenge for coalition leaders is to encourage positive communication and group decision-making across the variety of personalities, agendas, and skill sets of members. Research suggests a collaborative style of leadership helps sustain coalitions. Leaders can focus on developing skills that are based on the principles of collaborative leadership as one method for improving the long-term outlook of their organization.
- Keep the coalition focused on the goal. Successful collaborative leaders keep the diverse members attuned to their common goal while keeping an eye on the big picture to help inform group processes.
- Locate, persuade, and utilize influential champions and partners within the community. Strong leaders bring community ties to the table and develop partnerships with organizations and individuals that help sustain the coalition.
- Maintain and protect collaborative decision-making, planning, and infrastructure building process. Instead of being the decision-maker, collaborative leaders actively seek to continue the group decision-making, planning and infrastructure building processes.
- Diversify, motivate, and energize your coalition’s volunteer base. In order to increase your coalition’s sustainability, leaders should help recruit diverse community members, get them involved in ways that are meaningful to the volunteer, and keep them feeling upbeat about their experience as a member of the team.
- Help resolve member conflicts. Collaborative leaders can make deliberate efforts to help resolve member conflicts in open, unbiased ways that encourage compromise.
- Communicate with the community. Coalition leaders that bring excellent written and verbal communication skills to the table help get the coalition message out to the community and potential partners.
- Cultivate leadership in coalition members, including youth. Coalitions gain momentum under the initial inspired involvement of those who establish the coalition. However, in order for a coalition to sustain that momentum, it is crucial that new leadership is both allowed and encouraged to develop.
These leadership principles require a high level of commitment and connection to individual team members, the coalition as a whole, and addressing problems that are negatively impacting the health and safety of the community. As noted in [CADCA’s] Strategizer 36 on Leadership: “It is important to realize that when we are not tuned in to those we are leading, we are more likely to choose the leadership style that fits our personal style and is our personal preference, rather than considering the nature of the situation or the needs and wants of those we are leading. However, to increase our effectiveness as inclusive leaders who try to create empowering situation in which others will grow and pursue a unified vision, we need to be flexible and be able to adapt our styles to meet the needs of the situation and the individuals involved.”
Brubach, A. Sustainability: Principles of Collaborative Leadership. Retrieved March 9, 2009, from Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America Web site.
Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (2001). Coalitions 102: Leadership: Sustaining the momentum. Strategizer 36. Alexandria, VA: Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America.
Developed under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies contract. Reference #HHSS277200800004C. For training and/or technical assistance purposes only.