How to Practice Leadership by Volunteering

There have been many articles written for aspiring leaders on how to practice leadership. They are full of ideas like: inspire others, understand your strengths, model yourself after great leaders, or learn from success.

All these are great concepts, but the problem is that – well, they are just concepts. Academic knowledge can only take you so far in a field of action. And leadership is about action. To practice action, you need to eventually put the book down and practice.

So, how to practice leadership through action? Through volunteering.

The right kind of volunteering.

Let me show you what I mean.

We all know about the power of volunteering. You meet new people, you participate in worthy causes, you help your organization, and you learn a skill or two. Yet if you are someone who is seeking a leadership position, or perhaps hopes to be promoted to a leadership role, you need to expect more of your volunteering opportunities.


You need to seek volunteering opportunities that coordinate other people and put you in front of challenges.

Challenges are what leaders are made for. If there were no challenges, there would be no need for leaders, because there would be nothing to coordinate, structure and develop anything. But the truth is that any group of people clustered together in any form will need a leader to take them from Point A to Point B.

So if challenges are part of leadership, then if you wish to display leadership qualities that will put you in charge of a team, you must do so by overcoming challenges. Then – and only then – can you showcase your skills, talents and resolve.

“Actions, not words, are the ultimate results of leadership.”– Bill Owens

Here are a few opportunities you can look for:

  • Volunteer for projects that involve coordinating other people or resources. If a project is way above your skill level, then wait for another opportunity. But if the level of challenge is just slightly above what you think you can do, take the chance. Be brave. Overcoming obstacles and supplementing your skills with new ones is part of being a leader.
  • Seek long term positions of responsibility. Each organization has those. Perhaps you can be the fundraiser coordinator, or equipment manager. Perhaps you can manage social activities of your organization, prepare a fitness program, or help train other members of your team. The position doesn’t have to come with a title, but it has to come with additional responsibilities that you can rise to.
  • Suggest projects yourself. Do you have a good idea you want to try out? Do you see a better way of doing something? Bring it up as a suggestion and if others agree, volunteer to lead it. Remember, not all your suggestions will be approved, so never take rejection personally. But in a healthy environment good ideas are welcome, so be sure to offer them when you have them.

Volunteering for regular tasks that require routine work will not showcase your leadership skills. But being in a position of responsibility – especially if it involves other people – will. When your supervisors need new leaders for permanent positions, they will be looking for people who have demonstrated that they can coordinate others.

So, if your goal is to be a leader yourself, start seeking and accepting positions of responsibility. It will mean extra time and effort, but that’s part of being a leader.


And yes, the moment you accept responsibility of this sort, you are already a leader! Being a leader doesn’t require a title. There is a difference between a leadership position and a leadership role. Once you accept responsibility and start helping others, you start your journey of being a leader. You no longer aspire to be one.

Finally, while you are seeking ideas on how to practice leadership and are starting to take action, make sure you begin your leadership career with the necessary knowledge and the right skills. For that, I recommend two actions:

  1. Subscribe to our leadership newsletter. Twice a week, you will receive practical lessons on how to learn and practice leadership skills, how to motivate and inspire your followers, how to make good decisions, and how to plan, problem solve and prepare.
  2. Download How to Be a Leader. In a few minutes, you could reading be our best skills and techniques on how to correctly start your leadership career, so that you can be someone others will really want to follow!
Greg Bobkiewicz
Gregory Bobkiewicz is a leadership instructor and coach in the Canadian Armed Forces and the head honcho of Online Leadership Network. His military career has taken him all over the world and exposed him to many leadership challenges in demanding circumstances. He shares his passion for leadership with all new and aspiring leaders.


  1. Hello Greg, the idea is being a leader is something that is born with some people, I mean they naturally have the ability to leave other people and in the other hand learning to be a leader is also something I have been and these are some really common ways to keep you in line with it. Volunteering for leadership roles can be of great advantage indeed

    • Being born with a natural leadership talent definitely helps, but both John and I firmly maintain that leadership is a skill. It can be learned. I have seen many great leaders that didn’t seem to display any outstanding leadership talents, but became good because of their perseverance and the willingness to learn.

  2. Great stuff here, Greg. I like how practical your suggestions are for someone who desires to learn leadership. There are a lot of concepts out there, but your suggestions are actionable NOW. I wish I could have read this article when I was a teenager, I could have volunteered and learned that I enjoyed leading and gained skills in this area much sooner.

    Thanks for sharing such well written ideas, Greg.

    • Hey Garin. Thanks for the comment! Hopefully this article can inspire some aspiring leaders that are struggling with how to gain enough relevant experience. Volunteering is the way to go, we all know that. But if you want to gain leadership experience, you should be after the right kind of volunteering!

        • Hey Garin. Excellent question. There are a number of apps that help you manage volunteers, but not as many that help volunteers find volunteering opportunities. Galaxy Digital is one of those that do (it used to be called GetConnected). Volunteer Impact is another one. VolunteerLocal is an app that I know little about, but it also seems to allow volunteers to connect with opportunities.

          Probably one of the most known however, is VolunteerMatch, although I don’t know if they have an app. They are quite well established and operate in many areas. They try to connect volunteers with local opportunities, although your location will probably affect the number of opportunities you can find. Still, this is one of the premier sites to look into, if you are looking to connect with volunteer opportunities.

          Finally, two more ideas. GiveGab received a lot of attention a few years ago and is still going strong. I don’t have any personal experience with GiveGab, but they seem to connect volunteers to large organizations and are probably worth a close look. The last one is LinkedIn. Yes, it’s a professional social media site, but it should not be discounted as a place to find volunteering experiences, perhaps more on the professional side. They used to run a volunteer portal inside their platform, although I am not sure if it’s still operational.

          Does anyone else have other places to suggest?


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