07th May 2019 Written by Zoe Amar

Image: Charity Digital Skills Report.

How often have you heard the term digital leadership recently? It seems to be everywhere. But what does it really mean? And what should we be doing about it, whichever sector we work in?

I spoke at a conference yesterday about what digital leadership means. I define it as modern leadership, i.e. having a vision of what your organisation is trying to achieve, and a clear idea of how to get there.

Why does this matter? Let’s strip this back to the key things a leader is there to do. They need to have a clear and compelling idea of where your organisation is going, know how to get there and how to guide their team towards it, inspiring trust in themselves and bringing out the potential in others. None of this is possible without the ability to make good decisions. And to make truly informed decisions about digital, leaders need to have the right skills, knowledge and experience.

In last year’s Charity Digital Skills Report, which we run every year with Skills Platform, charity professionals demanded greater digital leadership across their sector. 77% told us they wanted their senior team to provide a clear vision of digital and what it could help them to achieve, whilst 53% of respondents would have liked their senior team to have some experience or understanding of digital tools, growing from 46% the year before. This year we’re asking charities to share their views on leadership and other key areas of digital, and we’d love to hear what you think by 14th May so we can create a resource to help the sector.

I think anyone can become a better digital leader if they put the work in. Here are 4 things everyone can do to become a better digital leader, today.

  • Understand your users. As you progress up the foodchain as a leader it can get harder to stay in touch with what your audience really wants. Yet this is vital for making good decisions about digital. Leaders need to get back in touch with this, whether it’s looking at data on website and social media usage or observing how the people they serve are using their organisation’s digital channels and services.
  • Go back to your organisation’s purpose. I speak to lots of leaders who still see digital as an own goal: “We want an award winning app!” “We want to be the best at digital in our field!” Ambition is great, and it needs to be channelled into using digital to achieve your organisation’s purpose, eg providing better mental health services. Why not brainstorm how to do this with your colleagues?
  • Use social media as a leadership tool. Obviously digital is a huge area and is about more than channels, but a really good way in to digital leadership is to start using social media. If you haven’t already, join Twitter and connect with the key people you need to talk to as part of your job. Tell people about what you do, why you care about it and why you’re proud of the work your organisation does.

Kate Collins, CEO of Teenage Cancer Trust, presented about her journey with social media at the conference I was at yesterday. Here are her top tips:

  • Keep learning. One of the most impressive CEOs and digital leaders I know is always learning new things. As part of trying to help his organisation be more agile, he read The Lean StartUp and went on YouTube to learn more about agile methodology. It’s this curiosity and ability to keep learning and trying new things that characterises good digital leadership. It can be hard to fit this into your day, so try learning in bitesized chunks, eg reading articles over a cup of tea, or doing a FutureLearn course on your commute.

If you’re a charity we’d love to hear your views on where you see the opportunities and risks in digital. Everything you tell us will build the annual barometer of charity digital skills, helping your organisation and charities across the UK see what’s going well and what needs to be developed. The survey only takes 5-10 minutes to complete. We can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Take The Charity Digital Skills Report survey. There are £200 of Amazon vouchers to be won by participants, and the deadline for responses is 14 May. The results will be released in June.