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Peer leadership

Peer leadership happens when a peer support group is led by someone who shares the lived experience of the group members. On this page, read our tips on being a good peer leader.

What is peer leadership?

In peer support, peer leadership can simply mean group facilitation and organisation, but it's an important role for peers to take on.

Shared lived experience can help build trust, empathy and emotional safety, as well as role-modelling active leadership for group members.

The term 'leadership' can be off-putting to some people, particularly those who find it hard to see themselves as leaders or organisers.

It can help to think about peer facilitators or peer coordinators. It can also help to break down the tasks of the leader and share them out so that the individual role of leader isn't as big.

Peer leadership and sustainability

Peer leadership is important for the sustainability of peer support groups for 2 main reasons. One is that a sense of shared experience between members and facilitators can strengthen the safety and cohesiveness of the group.

The other is that thinking about ways of supporting your group leaders or facilitators will help sustain the group in the longer term. Sharing the role and tasks of leadership will make the group more sustainable in the longer term.

Some peer support groups prefer an informal approach or a flat hierarchy, where everyone makes decisions collectively. Others prefer to have a designated facilitator or co-facilitators so they know someone is responsible for running the group.

"I think it's really important that, wherever possible, people who have been members of the group are coming through to lead the group because they'll have the lived experience that you might look for in a facilitator."

Questions for reflection

It's important to look at these questions together as a group, to get all peers thinking about what they want and need from the group.

  1. How does your group run now: do you have a facilitator or facilitators - or do you run the group collectively?
  2. Is your group able to meet without the facilitator(s) if it needs to?
  3. Does this feel like the right way for your group to run, or do you feel the need to make changes to ensure that the group will be sustainable in the longer term?

The peer leader role

The role of peer leaders or facilitators is to ensure the effective running of the group. This is more than organising and coordinating the group. It can involve many different activities, such as promoting the group to increase membership, finding venues, organising finances and ensuring everyone takes part as they wish.

Your group might already have one or more leaders or facilitators, but it can be useful to think through the skills and qualities that make for a good facilitator – and to share out tasks between a number of group members if possible.

These are some of the skills that are required or can be developed:  

  • Facilitation of the group
  • Coordinating activities such as planning sessions, booking venues etc 
  • Making sure everyone feels included
  • Being aware of gender and culturally specific language that could exclude some people
  • Upholding group agreements and safety guidelines 
  • Dealing with disagreements 
  • Social skills such as good communication skills 
  • Empathy
  • Listening skills
  • Motivation to encourage peers to try new things and take on roles in the group 
  • Self-awareness 
  • Active commitment to inclusion 

Activity: What makes good facilitation?

This activity is to help you decide how your peer support is facilitated when you meet. The aim is to come up with a list of qualities your group feels are important, and then think about who in the group has these skills.

  1. Using the diagram below, describe the qualities that your group need, or would like, from facilitation. These should be placed in the ‘not important’, ‘less important’, and ’important’ circles. You can use this diagram or draw it on a larger piece of paper. You could write the qualities directly onto the diagram or write them on sticky notes then stick them on.
  2. You can use this completed diagram to help you with the next activity about types of leadership.

The qualities you need are likely to come from different group members. Use this activity to think how the facilitation can be shared by more than one person.

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