WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo)

Your advice always seems to be aimed at larger organisations. What can I do in leading a really small charity?

The essence of leadership skills doesn't particularly vary between the top jobs in small or large organisations - let's not get into the debate over whether size matters!

I remember asking a senior civil servant if he thought leadership skills differed from really big organisations to small ones. He was emphatic that they don't. He said he had learned most of his management and leadership skills from running a small voluntary organisation, and pointed out that even though there are more than 1 million workers in the NHS, the group of people he directly manages is very small indeed.

Of course, there will always be significant additional complexities in running larger organisations, but the core competencies remain: communication; negotiation; representation; effective handling of scarce resources; staff and volunteer leadership; motivation and inspiration.

Third sector chief executives should be able to learn from the experience of others, no matter how big their organisation is. Leaders of large organisations have experience in working with trustees and stakeholders to achieve their aims, as well as handling large budgets and staff groups, while small organisations are adept at maximising limited resources. Both experiences are of use to organisations of any scale.

I also question the idea that you need to have already managed a large budget and staff group to lead a larger organisation. While trustees' need for a safe pair of hands is understandable, I think it fails to distinguish between management and leadership.

Perhaps the core difference in running smaller organisations is the range of resources available when the chief executive also has to be the finance director, chief fundraiser and HR director. In such situations, it is helpful to have a mentor or a coach; you should also be able to draw on the advice and support of professional associations. There are a range of organisations that offer advice and consultancy to small bodies.

People can also make full use of volunteer 'experts' and exploit commercial support where available - I'm always impressed by those chief executives who rope in private sector professionals to give them in-kind support.

Finally, Acevo runs an 'under-fives' group for charity CEOs with less than five staff who provide a support network for each other.

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