Driving High Impact Third Sector Leadership

In the present VUCA business world, the demand for strong and innovative leaders that are willing to provide and implement changes that drive business growth and productivity is surging.

Organisations seek leaders that will play significant roles in empowering their people and encourage well-managed risk-taking that brings transformational business results. 

The third sector – which includes Non-governmental, Non-profit, Donor agencies, Voluntary organisations, cooperatives, social enterprises and a vast number of charities, amongst others – is not left out.

This sector is the most vulnerable to radical social, political, economic or environmental changes, but at the same time, it is characterised as resilient, adaptive and enterprising. Therefore, as the business environment changes, they need dynamic, anti-fragile leaders that will be more strategic than transactional in leading and uncovering new growth opportunities.  

Third sector leadership differs from the private or public sector in a few ways. While private sector leaders have a bottom line as a ‘factor of life’, public sector leaders are accountable to politicians and, by extension, the electorates.

However, third-sector leaders are accountable to donor agencies and must continuously innovate and deploy pragmatic management models in response to social needs. 

In previous years, the sector struggled to meet increased service demands despite having reduced resources. As a result, there was a shift in operations to ensure that they survive, with a focus on collaborations and attempts to demonstrate their impact.

Now, it has become a fundamental part of the economy and social development of many countries and is keen to play a crucial role in the delivery of public services. 

There is a marked increase in expectations of organisations in this sector, accountability requirements and more transparency in reporting their operations, grant application or demonstrable impact. They are also under pressure to get a better grip on performance management and understanding the differences they make in people’s lives. 

Along with this increase is the emphasis on investment in leadership development. After factors like lack of funding, lack of volunteers, government policies, etc., lack of exemplary leadership is earmarked as one of the top five constraints the third sector faces.

The right leadership skills and strategic planning also feature among the top ten skill gaps in organisations. As a result, conversations continue to grow on the significance of building the right leaders. 

There is growing concern that the sector’s priorities are at risk if organisations fail to build leaders who can effectively fulfil emerging missions and adapt to fast-changing demands. Given the success of leadership investment in the private sector, it is normal to think that a more deliberate focus on and investment in third sector leadership will result in more effective delivery of social interventions. 

Expectations of the Third Sector Leader


Third-sector leaders are expected to demonstrate ‘soft leadership’ as their roles involve handling relationships with a sensitive and diverse range of individuals in and around their organisations.

A McKinsey survey on nearly 200 third-sector CEOs and managers also identified the critical attributes for leadership success in their sector. These include; 

  • Emotional attachment 
  • Enthusiasm and affinity with the cause 
  • A strategic approach to business operations 
  • Networking and influencing 
  • Inspirational communicator, etc. 

Third-sector leaders also need to be think tanks, driving impact leadership rather than leading for production. Succeeding in the third sector relies significantly on volunteers, and as a leader, you must know how to attract, motivate and retain these individuals, just like in the corporate world.  

Narrowing the Third Sector Leadership Development Gap

Finding solutions to defining and implementing leadership development in private and public sectors has a long history, but third-sector organisations must not adopt them directly as an easy answer. 

Leadership attributes vary; hence, leadership solutions for third-sector organisations must address the unique challenges that executives face. For instance, leaders in the social sector are passionate about their missions, and successful managers are able to harness this enthusiasm in their teams.  

Moreso, while competition remains the norm in the corporate sector, third-sector organisations cannot achieve their goals independently. Rather, they must engage, be active and willing to collaborate with others for advice or partnership opportunities. Third-sector leaders must cultivate these skills to be successful. 

What Does the Future Hold for Third Sector Leaders?

In many ways, the third sector is a shining light in today’s uncertain times, constantly delivering vital services to venerable people and ensuring their voices are heard. 

Therefore, impact leadership programmes that help to create leaders at all levels are critical for the sector to continue to thrive under dynamic political and economic contexts. 

By becoming more collaborative, innovative and values-led, third-sector leaders can drive significant positive changes, not only within their teams and organisations, but in the lives of the broader communities. 

Live Online Programme - Third Sector Leadership for Impact

Join our live online programme on third leadership for impact scheduled for Thursday 21st July, 2022 to learn more about how to position your leaders for impact. 

This two-day leadership for impact programme aims to engage leaders at all levels within third-sector organisations. We’ll be exploring the kinds of leadership required to drive transformational changes within the context of growing resilience and building capacity for change. 

The programme is designed for current and aspiring leaders within the third sector and community-based organisations. 

At the end of this programme, participants will be able to;   

  • Showcase the most sought-after leadership attributes required to attract and engage with donors and stakeholders as well as enhance project impact. 
  • Demonstrate third sector leadership in today’s business environment.   
  • Identify leadership challenges in and across the third sector environment.   
  • Develop the ability to become innovative and distinctive in leadership.   
  • Understand how to build collaborative relationships with third-sector organisations and other sectors.   

Register now for the third sector leadership for impact programme.

In addition, you will get a 10% discount when you nominate two or more delegates from your organisation.

Olasunkanmi Adenuga

Olasunkanmi Adenuga

Director, Workforce Learning

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