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Imposter Syndrome in Leaders of Volunteers

Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS, continues his series of articles in support of Leaders of Volunteers. This time he has some tips to help identify and resolve "imposter syndrome".

In the past few weeks, I have had a number of conversations with Leaders of Volunteers facing a similar crisis of confidence in their own ability.

So, I did some digging about this and re-discovered “Imposter Syndrome”. The term first appeared in 1978 and was originally identified as something that primarily affected women! Subsequent writers, of course, recognise that it can affect anyone.

One of these more recent writers is Dr Valerie Young, who identifies five types of imposter syndrome:

  1. The Perfectionist
  2. The Superhero
  3. The Natural Genius
  4. The Expert
  5. The Soloist.

Imposter Syndrome affects many individuals, including Leaders of Volunteers. It is characterised by a persistent feeling of inadequacy and a fear of being exposed as a fraud or imposter, despite evidence of competence and success.

This internalised self-doubt can be particularly prevalent among Leaders of Volunteers, who often take on significant responsibilities in managing and guiding a team of volunteers with different skills and competences.

Leaders of Volunteers are responsible for ensuring that volunteers are engaged, productive, and aligned with the organisation's mission at the same time as holding the volunteer’s interest. However, this leadership role can often trigger imposter syndrome due to various factors.

  1. Lack of Formal Training: Many Leaders of Volunteers come into their roles without formal training in volunteer management. This may lead to feelings of inadequacy. (Our NCVS Training and Development Programme could help.)
  2. Volunteer Diversity: Volunteers can come from diverse backgrounds and possess a wide range of skills and experiences. Managing such a diverse group can make leaders question their ability to relate to and effectively manage each volunteer.
  3. Volunteer Turnover: High turnover rates among volunteers can make leaders feel that they are not retaining or engaging their team effectively, contributing to Imposter Syndrome.
  4. Pressure for Impact: Leaders of Volunteers often feel immense pressure to ensure their teams make a meaningful impact on the organisation or community, which can exacerbate feelings of not measuring up.


Tips for Leaders of Volunteers to identify and avoid / resolve Imposter Syndrome

  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings: The first step in overcoming imposter syndrome is to recognise and acknowledge your self-doubt. Understand that it is a common experience and not a reflection of your actual abilities.
  2. Seek Mentorship: Connect with experienced Leaders of Volunteers or mentors who can provide guidance and support. They can share their experiences and help you develop your skills and confidence.
  3. Continuous Learning: Invest in your professional development by taking courses, attending workshops and attending and contributing to the Leaders of Volunteers Network (LoVN). This will boost your knowledge and confidence.
  4. Celebrate Achievements: Keep a record of your own successes and milestones as a Leader of Volunteers. Reflect on these accomplishments to remind yourself of your competence.
  5. Open Communication: Foster open and transparent communication with your volunteer team. Engage in regular discussions about their expectations and feedback, which can help you better understand their needs and challenges.
  6. Manage Expectations: Realise that no one is perfect, and it's okay to make mistakes. Managing volunteers is a learning process, and each experience contributes to your growth.
  7. Self-Care: Pay attention to your own well-being. Take breaks when needed, manage stress, and maintain a healthy work-life balance to prevent burnout and maintain your confidence.
  8. Positive Self-Talk: Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations. Challenge the irrational beliefs that fuel imposter syndrome, and remind yourself of your capabilities.
  9. Support Groups: Consider joining the Leaders of Volunteers Network (LoVN), or other support groups. Sharing your experiences with others who understand your challenges can be incredibly validating


Imposter syndrome is a surprisingly common challenge for Leaders of Volunteers, but with self-awareness and these strategies, you can build the confidence and skills necessary to excel in your role and positively impact your volunteer team and the organisation you serve.

This issue is linked to burnout and I’ll be addressing that in a future article.


Date Posted: 
Tuesday, 7 November, 2023

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