Volunteer roles/leadership/privileges


(Janet Swisher) #1

I’m looking to revamp the way my community manages leadership roles and related privileges. (As background, this community is centered around creating and maintaining wiki content, so discussions are in service of that goal and not an end in themselves.) The structure and processes we have for leadership roles mostly aren’t working: people step up for roles, and then wander away and abandon them; and we don’t have a process for removing someone from a role. Leadership roles are currently tied with elevated privileges, and we don’t have a process for removing privileges either.

I’m intrigued by Rich’s idea of matching people to challenges, not pre-defined roles. I think this can be applied to volunteer leadership as well as to staff positions. A “role” should end when the challenge it was created to address has ended (or has changed substantially). If the person who has stepped up to address a challenge is not making progress with it, they should be asked to try a different strategy, or step aside so someone else can tackle the challenge.

My question for you all is: How does your community structure volunteer leadership roles? How do you manage succession and replacement of leaders? Any other thoughts or suggestions in this area?


(Sarah Hawk) #2

Great post Janet.

In a previous community role I worked with a large team of volunteers. There were several levels of leadership and selection was based on a combination of experience, skills (both management and topic related) and availability. Traditionally people were promoted through the ranks based on time served, and we ran into the same sorts of issues that you describe.

I changed the promotion policy to prioritise skills and availability over time served and things turned around. The difficult part was being ruthless. If someone wasn’t performing, I warned them and then moved them out of the role. It was shocking to some at first (those that had been there a long time and were comfortable doing nothing in their high-ranking roles) but I think that’s par for the course.


(Janet Swisher) #3

Thanks for the response, @HAWK. Related question: What process did you follow when deciding to change the promotion policy? Was it just fiat by CM, or did you open it up for discussion?

In an open source community like mine, dictating what will change rarely goes over very well. On the other hand, I’m starting to have a pretty clear proposal that I want to present.


(Sarah Hawk) #4

I hear you. Balancing the pros and cons of making decisions by committee was always a consideration in that community too.

With any change I always went in with a proposal and asked for feedback, but sensitively made it clear that the place wasn’t actually a democracy so ultimately I would make a decision. Sometimes the feedback was valid and valuable, sometimes not – but even in the latter case it still gave everyone a chance to feel like I cared what they thought.

The trickiest bit was always putting something out there when there were very clear candidates that would be affected (i.e. I imagine there are currently people in leadership roles in your community that will be aware that you’re targeting them when you raise the subject).

Do you think it might be a good idea to contact them privately to let them know that this is something that you’ll be tabling so that they get a fight and come out on the defensive?