Beyond the theory: situational leadership for sustainability

Mr Matt Ryan1,2,3
1NSW Sport and Recreation, Berry, Australia; 2LaTrobe University, Bendigo, Australia; 3The Scots College, Glengarry, Kangaroo Valley, Australia


In our industry we often teach what makes a good team, but are we doing it ourselves? In an industry known for a high rate of burnout, can we develop our practitioners’ situational leadership skills so they can sustain themselves and we can retain their expertise as an industry? Situational leadership for sustainability is a concept that can help retain skilled staff, provide better quality programs for participants and increases safety. These insights are valuable for both practitioners and managers alike.

Through 25 years of observation of fellow outdoor leaders, and pragmatic self-reflection of my own practice, I have come to understand situational leadership beyond the theory: how it impacts the group; how it affects the leader and their longevity; and how it also directly influences the overall quality and strength of individual outdoor practitioners and organisations as a whole.
By exploring three ‘typical’ outdoor leaders – one just starting out, one mid term and one long term – classic leadership characteristics are present. The first: young, enthusiastic, and eager to please, who wants to impart all of their knowledge into every briefing. The second: a quiet achiever who is reliable, consistent and gets the job done without fuss or bother. Thirdly: the practitioner that has a situational story for every circumstance, and has a walk and a talk that is uniquely their own. Through understanding these leadership characteristics, individuals can reach their full potential and have a sustainable career – benefiting our clients, organisations and our industry as a whole.

Armed with knowledge of self, others and place, individual practitioners and organisations can build and strengthen sustainable teams that exemplify a good balance of youthful exuberance, consistent autopilot and knowledgeable wisdom of what works in different situations.

Matt is an enthusiastic outdoor educator with over 25 years teaching and leading in the outdoors. He has been fortunate to have been mentored by some of the industries best. Currently he has a unique work mix that spans from building sandcastles with preschoolers, to snow shelters with university students and all kinds of primary and secondary schools, disability and community groups. When not working, Matt enjoys adventures with his own family, whether they be in the mountains or in his back yard.

About OEA and Outdoors NSW

Outdoor Education Australia (OEA)  was established in 2006 as a national network of outdoor education associations. The organisation facilitates communication between state and territory outdoor education associations about the practice and delivery of outdoor education; advocates for outdoor education across primary, secondary and tertiary education; and provides policy advice.

Outdoors NSW is the go-to place for all things outdoors in NSW.

The peak body for the outdoors in NSW, the organisation, (formerly known as ORIC), represents the outdoor community, advances outdoor standards, safety and practices, and fosters greater participation in the outdoors.

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