One staff position that is essential to running your program is a program leader or coordinator. The information below on program leaders covers their roles and responsibilities, elements that may prepare a leader (such as their experience), and what can motivate and inspire them.
Decide where the leader fits in the community or organization
The program leader should be an equal peer to other leaders in the organization or community so they can form strong partnerships and supportive relationships.
Determine the leader's responsibilities
What the leader will be responsible for will depend on the size of your program and the availability of other staff that support the program. Also, the way a leader is defined will vary among programs. There are three levels of tasks for which a leader may be responsible. Smaller programs may mean that leaders will have to take on duties across all three levels. Larger programs may involve leader duties at the high level and possibly at the mid-level. The table below provides a description of duties at each level.
- Counsel peer supporters
- Documentation and other paperwork
- Recruit and screen peer supporters
- Hiring and managing personnel
- Personnel and peer evaluation
- Matching peer supporter to participant
- Training peer supporters
- Problem-solving with peer supporters
- Policy development
- Program development
- Program evaluation
Write the program leader's job description
Your best resource to help write a job description may be human resources. You may wish to partner with this department in an organization or with a person in the community who has this background. The resources section has examples of job descriptions.
Background and Experience
“…if they don’t have some type of a business background, or human service background, I think it can be very challenging. We have seen a lot of programs fail because of that. They have the best of intentions as a parent, but they don’t have the skills to actually manage running a program. So, I think professional expertise is needed as well. That combination seems to work really well.”
— Quote from a program leader
“So for instance, taking peer to peer or family to family [programs], those are the individuals that once they get their life situation settled want to become board members or want to become involved…with policy activities.” [or become state or national trainers or mentors for new peer supporters]
— Quote from a program leader
If the program is in a clinical setting, it is useful for leaders to have a healthcare professional background in nursing, social work, or counseling. Larger programs may require that the leader have some form of leadership training or education. A leadership and project management background can also be very helpful particularly for larger programs.
Larger programs expect their leader to have experience in managing programs. Also, many leaders have personally experienced the health condition or situation that the program aims to address. This personal experience often helps them in their role as a leader.
Building the program leader’s skills
The extent of the training will depend on the structure of your program. Larger programs often have training that covers a lot of information and may use train-the-trainer models that offer certification. Smaller programs tend to provide less structured training and will build on the skills leaders already have acquired as peer supporters or in other roles. Sometimes program leaders benefit from looking at other programs and meeting with other program leaders to learn what worked for them. They may also review best-practices from other programs and information from research studies.
Refresher training is sometimes offered in larger organizations. Some hold conferences or workshops that present new ideas or new research information about health conditions or life situations. Others may keep track of issues raised from providing peer support; hold refreshers with peer supporters to address these issues; reinforce content from the original trainings; and review policies and procedures of the program (often as they evolve.)
Many leaders are the head of their program and do not report to others. Thus, getting input from participants and peer supporters about their performance is helpful to their understanding of what they are doing well and areas where they need to improve. Simple input forms can be used. Everyone in the program needs to feel that their input to the leader about the program and staff performance is welcome at any time and highly valued (refer to the Access section).
Leaders often say their inner passion is what motivated them to start a new program or lead an existing one. Such passion may be what drives them to remove barriers and devote their time and skills to the program.
“It’s a joy to see people come in and they are broken. And they stay, you know, like you say, the seed has been planted. As they stay you can see their growth, their progress. So that’s one of the biggest joys to me.”
— Quote from a program leader
Maintaining Support for Program Leaders
Build support for the program leader into your program plans. Types of support may include providing someone to do day-to-day office work, paying for conference fees and educational events, or giving them resources to work on program barriers.
The Internet can also serve as a means of support for leaders. Larger programs that have local groups in many places can form a network with email list serves and websites. Stand-alone programs can use public list serves and targeted searches to find people or resources that may support them (for example, to identify an organization that teaches how to support or advocate for a cause).
Leaders can also be connected with local partners, such as a person in the community, or a local chapter or program (this is particularly important for stand-alone programs). Connecting new leaders to experienced ones is another form of peer support for leaders, and may also reflect the mission of the program.
Other ways leaders may be inspired:
- A desire to help others and see people benefit (similar to peer supporters)
- They personally experienced self-healing
- They see a need in their community or may enjoy using their skills to start or develop a program
Updated: March 2018