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Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations
Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

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Introduction and guidance

1 The course: an overview

This course, and another written by the same authors, Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , are designed to develop your understanding of leadership, and to help you develop your leadership practice in the voluntary sector context. Both are aimed at anyone working in or around voluntary organisations – whether as volunteers or employees, whether in a management position or not. Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations offers a general introduction to leadership, and you are strongly recommended to undertake that course before embarking on this one: it provides background and terminology that serve as important foundations for this course.

Throughout the text, the terms ‘voluntary sector’ and ‘voluntary organisations’ have been used. We recognise that others will prefer the terms ‘third sector’, ‘civil society’ and ‘nonprofit organisations’. In many cases, the terms will be transferable in terms of the key learning points. However, we encourage you to reflect on how and where different sector labels have implications for leadership thinking and practice. Both courses have been written from a UK perspective and primarily with UK case study content. If you are studying from outside the UK, then we encourage you to reflect on differences and similarities in your own context. Take time to look for local case studies that illustrate (or challenge) key learning points, and compare and contrast sector practices and identity in the UK with your own context.

The course takes a deeper look at leadership, focusing on its collaborative dimensions. Specifically, this course will address the following areas.

In Week 1, we will introduce our definition of collaborative leadership and discuss why the environment voluntary organisations work within is especially conducive to such ways of working.

In Week 2, you will learn in more depth about the interconnected subjects of identity and participative practice in leadership. You will learn what we mean by both terms and engage with some examples of how applying this twin focus might be useful.

Week 3 focuses on you as someone in leadership. You explore the identity of the practitioner and consider ways in which you can reflect in order to improve your capability as a collaborative leader.

Week 4 asks you to focus on exploring the unknown in collaborative leadership. You are introduced to some ways in which you can analyse and work with organisational language and the notion of stretch questions as a valuable way of exploring the unknown.

Week 5 focuses on constructive challenge in collaborative leadership, making the case for more robust ways in which we can push one another to more creative solutions.

Week 6 focuses on the particular challenges and characteristics of collaboration across organisational boundaries, and the implications for leadership. It explores the tensions which arise for leadership in inter-organisational contexts.

Week 7 explores an issue which underlies much of collaborative working, but which often remains hidden – power. You will explore the issues which arise when working in contexts of power asymmetry, and the potential for exerting influence in these contexts

Week 8 wraps up the course. It looks back on some of the main themes, with a focus on collaboration over the longer term.

The course is designed as a mix of reading, viewing and participation. You will be presented with some ideas but you will also be encouraged to interact with colleagues, friends, and fellow learners as much as you can. Talk with your colleagues or peers about what you are learning, take part in the online discussion forums. Consider the option of studying this course with a group of colleagues from your own or other organisations in a learning club or informal group – either via occasional face to face meetings, or via social media. Contact the CVSL team at to find out more about facilitating a learning club.

Please take our survey about this course to give us feedback, inform future work, and have the (optional) opportunity to get more involved if you are interested. You do not need to have finished studying this course in order to take the survey.