A. Leadership Capacity

4. Assembling a Leadership Team

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Building the Business Case for Sustainability 

Assembling a Leadership Team is more challenging than simply identifying the best candidates.  In some cases key leaders may personally value sustainability or in even rarer cases, believe it can actually enhance performance. In most instances, leaders don’t see sustainability as a significant area of opportunity; getting them to be invested in the success of a program and further, relating to it as a driver of performance, can be very challenging.  

When initially assembling a Leadership Team it isn’t likely possible to demonstrate sustainability can improve overall performance; this can take months or years.  To get a group of leaders committed to leading the charge, it will still be important to present a compelling case for supporting sustainability.  As discussed in the Preface, organizational leaders are mandated to maximize performance.  Capturing interest will demand framing the opportunity in ways that appeal to a leader’s concerns and speaking the right language.1

To learn more about how addressing sustainability can result in stronger financial performance in a quick and thorough video, click here  icon_library_16x16

To learn more about the remarkable correlation between diligent sustainability business practices and economic performance click here  icon_library_16x16

To access a simple tool created by Bob Willard that allows you to quickly see how much addressing sustainability has the potential to enhance your organization’s performance click here  icon_free-tools_16x16


Leadership Team Structure 

Just as a startup company is launched on the ideas and sweat of an entrepreneur and team of leaders, a new program must have a capable champion and core group who will drive the effort.  We will refer to this group as the Leadership Team.  This group will set the program’s strategic direction, generate organizational support, make key decisions and be held accountable for the progress and outcomes achieved. 

The Leadership Team should have the necessary skills, like systems and design thinking, and the experience needed to lead a sophisticated program.  A Leadership Team may take any form, but at a minimum, we recommend using the following structure that is defined in detail below: 

  • Program Champion
  • Program Sponsor
  • Senior Supporters

The Program Champion

Great things start because somebody is inspired to bring his or her vision to life, and that person generally must be willing to push through many obstacles to be successful.  We’ll call this person the Program Champion. This individual is responsible for leading the entire program and will need to have sound knowledge and a variety of key skills.  Ideally he/she should:

  • Have a strong understanding of the organization (history, operation, culture, etc.)
  • Possess deep sustainability knowledge, especially around what is most relevant to the organization.
  • Be a senior employee, though not necessarily a top-level executive, and already be trusted with decision-making authority.
  • Boast strong leadership and team management capabilities.
  • Be knowledgeable, trained and/or experienced in change management  practices.
  • Be dedicated to driving program development and implementation (but of course, this is not always possible or practical, especially within smaller organizations.)

The Program Sponsor

This person generally holds a position more senior than the Program Champion (e.g. CEO, CFO, COO, etc. or equivalent) but is less intensely devoted to the Program.  This individual helps to set the program’s strategic direction and can dedicate resources toward supporting the efforts being undertaken.  Likely, the Program Champion reports to the Program Sponsor. 

The Program Sponsor’s role involves opening doors, removing barriers, and leveraging his/her authority to influence leadership and generate commitment to the Program from across the organization.  Ideally, this person should have a personal stake in the program’s success and benefit from expected results being realized. 

Senior Supporters

Given that influence and credibility are critical to implementing change, involving senior executives or leaders is important, albeit naturally difficult.  A small group of committed Senior Supporters will create the top down support and political will needed to get other leaders on board and set an example for the entire organization.  The most effective leaders are ones who are already well-respected, well-connected, and can generate cross-organizational collaboration.  Unlike the Program Champion and (to a lesser degree) Sponsor, the Senior Supporters would be much less focused on, or closely involved with, the program day-to-day.

For a free tool to help your organization secure senior leadership support click here  icon_free-tools_16x16

Securing Leadership Support

Securing leadership support is of the highest priority.  It can be one of the most difficult aspects of building a program, but there is simply no way around it; without leadership support, a program’s potential for being transformational is much reduced.2

A highly effective program will demand updates to organizational practices related to functions like budgeting, planning, hiring, compensation, and purchasing practices, to name but a few.  Success depends on securing a foundation of unwavering, broad-based organizational support.

In some cases, luck can play a role.  Perhaps a board member, CEO, or other senior executive is already passionate about sustainability, recognizes the need for making a substantive commitment, or sees the business opportunities beneath the surface.

When luck is not on side, a strong case for supporting the program must be made.  The best approach is to focus on the priorities that are most important to leadership.  As discussed, the only way a program will realize its potential is if it actually strengthens overall performance. It is this objective that is most likely to appeal to those who are responsible for the organization’s success.


1. For a variety of resources created by Bob Willard that help explain the business case for sustainability and how to create one see his website www.sustainabilityadvantage.com

2.David Browder provides some excellent information in his article How to Get Senior Executives to Support You found here: http://www.24hrco.com/images/articles/html/Browder_March11.html


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