Leadership overview

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The origin of this on-line Bushwalking Manual is the Bushwalking and Ski Touring Leadership Handbook that was published for the Bushwalking and Mountaincraft Leadership Certificate Course (BMLCC).

The BMLCC ran in Victoria for 35 years from the 1960s until 2003.  Eight hundred people graduated from this community-based and run bushwalking leadership course and its offshoot, the ski tour leaders course. 

The BMLC Manual became recognised as a most useful, practical guide for all bushwalkers and became a reference used across Australia. 

This online manual, published and updated by Bushwalking Victoria, is a further evolution of  practical guidelines for all bushwalkers and bushwalking trip leaders for safe, enjoyable community-based bushwalking in Australia.

Bushwalking trip leadership: ranging from informal to formal 

A group of friends going bushwalking may have no-one in a leadership role, and for solo bushwalkers a trip leader is redundant, while bushwalks organised by bushwalking clubs have appointed trip leaders. 

Lake Rhona, Tasmania
Lake Rhona, Tasmania

For informal bushwalking trips (e.g. a group of friends or family group) with no designated leader, it is very important that the leadership functions still occur to ensure a well planned, safe and enjoyable bushwalk.  These leadership functions may be shared across members of the group. 

Those with a leadership role need to have the necessary skills, experience and attributes.  Shared leadership functions should be coherent and coordinated. 

For example:

For a small group of friends who regularly walk together, various leadership tasks and functions may be well understood and taken care of. Members of the group are well aware of each other’s capabilities and of the type of trip being organised.

Sharing trip leadership functions in an informal group where members don’t know each other well can compromise the safety and enjoyment of the trip if leadership functions are poorly executed or overlooked.

For example, difficulties on a trip may be encountered if: 

  • The trip is poorly or incompletely planned
  • The trip is beyond the capabilities of some group members
  • Some group members do not have appropriate clothing or equipment
  • The leader fails to respond to adverse weather forecasts and events.

Bushwalking club trips with appointed leaders

Bushwalking Clubs have policies, processes and practices to ensure enjoyable and safe trips for their members. These typically include:

  • A Trip program (or calendar) provides  information on a varied walks suitable for the club’s membership. Some clubs may choose to focus on day walks, while others may focus on extended trips.
  • Trip leaders are appointed with appropriate skills and experience for the trip
  • New leaders are supported through formal and informal mentoring and training
  • Trips are well described and advice is readily available for intending participants to ensure that their decision to join the trip is informed. Some clubs use a trip grading system. 
  • Experienced walkers on trips on trips provide support for new leaders and new members.
  • Trip leaders check that intending participants have adequate skills and experience for a trip, especially on more challenging ones.
  • Club members have collective “local knowledge” of walking routes and areas from previous trips.
  • Emergency communications.  Some clubs have or hire emergency communications devices for club trips.
  • Incidents, accidents and near misses. Lessons learnt add to the experience and knowledge within clubs.
  • Training is provided by some clubs and state peak bodies in skills such as navigation, leadership and first aid.

Learning to be a bushwalking trip leader

There is no substitute for personal experience and there are no shortcuts to gaining it.  A trip leader must have the skills, experience and fitness to comfortably undertake and complete the trip.

Trip leaders must also have good interpersonal skills to relate to all group members.

The leader of a bushwalk requires sufficient skills and experience to be able to plan the trip well, assemble the group for the trip, and lead an enjoyable and safe trip successfully.

Different levels of leadership skills are required depending on the nature of a trip.  For example:

The leader of an extended trip to South West Tasmania must have a very high level of multi-day bushwalking skills and experience. 

The leader of a weekend trip to Victoria’s Wilsons Promontory should have good overnight bushwalking skills and experience.

The leader of a day bushwalk in the Blue Mountains should be an experienced bushwalker and navigator but not to the level indicated in the above examples.    

Aspiring bushwalking leaders should:

  • Build experience by going on a variety of trips with a range of participants and leaders
  • Get involved in trip planning
  • Take on roles such as navigation and supporting novice
  • Complete a first aid course. For extended and remote trips, this should be a wilderness first aid course.
  • Observe a variety of leadership styles
  • Keep a log of trips and note any lessons learnt
  • Use an experienced trip leader as a mentor
  • Learn about safety considerations and how to apply them
  • Appreciate that people go bushwalking for a range of reasons.

General leadership skills and attributes

Leaders have their own style and strengths and should learn to recognise and utilise the strengths of others to complement their own. Good leaders seek to improve their skills by actively addressing weaknesses and building on their strengths.

Leadership skills areas include:

  • Technical
  • Safety
  • Organisational
  • Environmental
  • Problem solving and decision-making
  • Instructional
  • Group management

In summary, good leaders have the following leadership attributes:

  • Demonstrate sound judgement
  • Able to motivate people
  • Exhibit confidence
  • Has a flexible approach
  • Empathetic when dealing with others
  • Has good personality traits
  • Has a good level of personal physical fitness

Delegation

Delegating and sharing tasks is common on bushwalking trips.  Delegating can:

  • Share the load of the leader
  • Utilise skills of other experienced members. For example:
    • When navigating in a whiteout get the best navigator up front
    • Assist a struggling group member
  • Provide opportunities for each group member to develop skills and experience.
  • Demonstrate alternative ways of doing things which can be instructive.

When delegating the trip leader should:

  • Be aware of the skills of group members
  • Determine tasks that can be delegated and choose the right people for the right task
  • Clearly communicate the task and associated responsibilities
  • Monitor tasks, provide encouragement and support when appropriate.