Become a leader in your community

A key ingredient to positive change in a community is leadership.

Why develop sustainability leaders?

For communities to work towards sustainability we need leaders who are passionate about their local environment and community – leaders who can creatively envision a better future for their community.

Sucessful sustainability-focussed leaders are collaborators and networkers. They need skills in mobilising community members and the courage to take bold action even when there is the risk of failure.

Why community sustainability leadership?

While many of the challenges we face are global, community-based action mostly occurs at the local level. The challenges and opportunities that local communities face are best understood by the people who live there.

Developing local leadership potential drives community-based action, which creates local economic, environmental and social enterprise. This, in turn, increases the liveability, vibrancy and sustainability of local communities.

Community leadership in action

There are eight key capacities that are necessary to exercise effective community leadership.

Make things happen (vision, action and evaluation)

Leadership is about identifying what needs to be done, designing a solution, working out who can help and what you need, and then doing it. Building a vision is important because having clarity about what you want to achieve will help keep you on track. Incorporate regular times to stop, think and reflect on the progress of your project – you can even change how or what you’re doing if it’s not working out. Evaluating your project can be done various ways, but it is important to critically reflect. Start with a simple questioning framework. ‘Was the core purpose of the project achieved?’ ‘Were there any unexpected outcomes?’ ‘Could it be done better in the future and if so how?’

Collaborate (lead and follow)

To be an effective leader you need to know what you’re good at and find others to help you out with the things you’re not so good at. By collaborating you form productive partnerships that help you achieve your goal. Different people in your community will be able to contribute different skills and talents to your project.


Clear, succinct, passionate and most importantly, authentic communication is important to ‘sell your message’. People are more likely to support you and advocate for your ideas when you communicate clearly. It is important to tell your story to the community and include ways that they can get involved in your project.

Think creatively and innovatively

Being able to think creatively and come up with new and interesting ways of doing things can bring new solutions to challenging problems. With the right support you can be brave and rapidly proto-type some of these solutions. By putting something out there fast you can observe and learn from your end-user/s about what works and what doesn’t. Then modify and try it again.

Critical reflection

It is important to step away from project ideas and critically reflect on them. Use your networks and collaborators in this process to analyse what worked, what didn’t, what the project should retain and what it should discard.

Be resilient

Explore ways to build your own resilience as well as the resilience of your local community. A key to this is developing authentic relationships and connecting people. Focussing on personal sustainability means you won’t burn out trying to achieve everything on your own.

Systems thinking

This critical thinking approach to analysing the interdependence between a system’s parts can help you make sense of complex situations and processes. Learning to think this way can help you understand relationships, feedback loops and the root cause of a problem. By understanding a system, or systems, you can identify different ways to intervene to make better decisions and achieve better results.

Sustainability Leadership Development Program

In 2014, we partnered with the Centre for Sustainability Leadership (CSL) to deliver to Sustainability Leadership Development Programs in the Illawarra and the Northern Rivers Regions. The program brought together passionate local people and enabled them to tackle local problems using local resources.

Act now

Be inspired, watch interviews with the participants of the Sustainability Leadership Development Programs 


Supported by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.

Environmental Trust Logo


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Page last updated: 10 December 2015