The establishment of many adaptation partnerships is driven by visionary leadership; leadership which is innovative, imaginative, and inspires and empowers others. Over time, many different forms of leadership are required. By developing this capability, you can help to sustain and increase impact over the long term.

Key aspects include:

  • Vision

The challenge of adapting to climate change needs to be well understood by partners who must have the vision, drive and determination needed to lead change. The partnership needs visionary leadership and a clear and ambitious vision and purpose to motivate and inspire involvement and action.

  • Empowerment

Authentic and heartfelt leadership is needed to empower and motivate inclusive action. Adaptation should be developed with people and nature, rather than done to them and must take account of wider challenges, opportunities, and priorities.

  • Influence

The partnership will need to take a strategic approach to developing influence. Techniques such as stakeholder analysis and power mapping can help to scope targeted engagement and influencing. Identifying windows of opportunity and levers of change helps to focus effort to influence change, including through policy and legal drivers.


Creating a shared vision can help partners to explore the change that they want to achieve together and develop a shared view on what they want and need for the future of their place.

The visioning process should be open, transparent, creative and inclusive. It is an opportunity to bring together diverse stakeholders, build relationships and identify areas of consensus and potential conflict. Creating a shared vision can help open up conversations about how the changes set out in the vision can be achieved, build social and political support for change and lay the foundation for positive actions in the future. This action is connected to the partnership capability as it helps develop relationships and builds trust between stakeholders through exploring and communicating shared challenges and hopes for the future.

  • Co-create a vision for the future - Approach and include people in an interactive way (e.g. workshops/panel discussions) to draw out their knowledge and insights. Use examples of other cities and regions to provide ideas and generate discussion between stakeholders. Identify common themes, including shared hopes and fears for the future, and use art-based methods to draw out participants feelings, emotions, intuition and imagination during the visioning process. This activity is strongly connected to building partnerships as all stakeholders should be involved in order to create a strong, positive vision for the future.


Opportunities for change can include a trigger event such as major storm damage or flooding and/ or policy and legislative changes. You can also create opportunities through communication and engagement.

  • Trigger events - Climate related shocks such as severe storms, flooding or heatwaves often focus attention on the need for increased resilience and motivate individuals and organisations to take action. Leaders tend to emerge during and after crisis events and look to collaborate with others who are also motivated to make a difference and reduce future risks. Community leaders may choose to form locally led groups to support recovery and increase resilience to future climate risks. Organisations, businesses and communities may choose to work together to address the long-term challenges that the crisis event has highlighted.


  • Policy and legislative changes - Policy and legislation can be powerful opportunities to influence climate resilience and adaptation. Review existing strategies to identify systemic barriers that may hinder advancement (e.g. particular types of adaptation solutions that might not align with the vision). Identify government policies and mandates that require the consideration of climate change and align plans and strategies with these to secure buy-in and support from central and local authorities. Look out for ‘windows of opportunity’ to influence changes in legislation and policy that can help progress adaptation actions.


  • Create opportunities - Take opportunities to engage and open up conversations on the need for adaptation among diverse organisations and stakeholders. Established initiatives such as community planning partnerships in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the partnership council in Wales, the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership in England or the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in Ireland and Northern Ireland are key opportunities to engage with leaders representing a variety of sectors all connected to the same place. You can use the vision (Action 1A) to communicate the benefits of working towards a climate ready future, motivating and inspiring partners to find out more. Identify whether there is interest among partners in building a business case for a new adaptation partnership or broadening the remit of an existing partnership to address adaptation. You can find out more about building a case for action under the partnership capability.


Everyone needs to be involved in adapting to climate change. Including a diverse range of people throughout the adaptation process (from planning to implementation and evaluation) will increase equity, and build a strong sense of ownership and support.

Effective leadership has a crucial role to play in empowering. motivating and enabling diverse involvement and ensuring that the partnership operates effectively.

  • Employ different leadership styles - The table below describes common styles of leadership that can benefit adaptation partnerships. Different leadership styles may suit different goals and objectives; often a combination styles will be needed.

Table 1: Common leadership styles

Leadership Style Description
Coaching Motivational leadership that focuses on the individual
Visionary Progress-focused and inspirational leadership
Affiliative Humble leadership that puts people first
Autocratic Authoritarian and result-focused leadership
Laissez-faire Hands-off and delegatory leadership
Democratic Supportive and innovative leadership that encourages participation
Pacesetter Helpful and motivational leadership that sets challenging goals
Transformational Challenging and communicative leadership driven by overarching objectives
Transactional Performance-focused leadership who incentivise reaching goals
Bureaucratic Hierarchical and duty-focused leadership that is detail and focused

In the early stages of adaptation partnerships stakeholders often respond well to visionary leadership from passionate individuals who ‘practise what they preach’. As the partnership begins to expand, leadership styles that are more inclusive with regards to decision-making (Democratic, Pacesetter, Transformational) become more important in driving change.

Top-down leadership styles, which tend to be more autocratic or bureaucratic, are thought to be less successful and sustainable.


Effective adaptation needs a ‘bigger picture’ outlook. Having a long-term vision that includes cross-sectoral and multi-level linkages will allow for multiple benefits from adaptation action while also embedding adaptation as a key priority within the place.

Leaders can help different partners understand why adapting to climate change is relevant for them and can help create open and inclusive spaces where people can work together to explore how and why adaptation connects to their wider social, economic, and environmental concerns and priorities. New leaders can emerge from these discussions and partners can be motivated to create and advocate for policies and investments that take account of local needs, support equal and just adaptation and deliver maximum benefit.

This action ties in closely with the partnership capability in the need for stakeholders to work together for systems change and transformation to occur.

  • Have a long-term over-arching vision that is always in sight - To sustain success a ‘bigger picture’ view of adaptation is needed. The vision that partners developed initially (stage 1) should be a key communication resource that leaders can use to build buy in and support for action. The vision may also be further developed into a strategic planning tool by applying a theory of change approach (see partnership capability action 2B).
    Policies should have explicit adaptation outcomes for resilient futures, not just current resilience. Support this by developing objectives to meet the long-term vision for the place, and update them as adaptation progresses. This activity is strongly connected to the governance of an adaptation partnership. capability.


List example visions:

  • Employ systems change processes - Power dynamics are beginning to shift and power structures need to change to reflect this. Use the best elements of old and new power (Figure below) to drive participatory adaptation action that is supported as widely as possible, including by central government.
Old and new power

Address power imbalances and share power to build solidarity among stakeholders and shift how people perceive adaptation within their place. Leadership styles that are autocratic and bureaucratic are based on old power and will not support transformational change. Establish leadership styles that reinforce and build on the instinct of stakeholders to cooperate. This will increase involvement and set the foundations for wider systems change. This activity ties in with partnership activity 2A as it involves bringing people together to discuss and implement shared goals that have multiple broader societal benefits.


In place-based adaptation initiatives there comes a critical point where those leading the adaptation partnership must commit resource and personnel for on-the-ground action to begin. Support from stakeholders is instrumental to implementing the vision, while support from central government can also be helpful. Use monitoring and evaluation to highlight learnings from both successes and failures in the adaptation process and continually strengthen it. Communicate progress and learnings from adaptation initiatives to instil a sense of ownership in communities and foster positive relationships with central government (increasing the likelihood of future buy-in for adaptation action).

  • Practise Horizon Scanning - Be aware of opportunities to embed adaptation and transformation in leadership mandates. Connect with a range of partners to promote adaptation initiatives being carried out by the partnership and build its reputation. Engage and work with networks to drive momentum for more significant policy changes from central government.


  • Use monitoring and evaluation in decision-making - Leaders should commit to ambitious M&E targets to drive action within the partnership. Outputs and key learnings should be used to inform decision-making processes, ensuring they are equitable and sustainable, and guide the implementation of future adaptation initiatives. This activity is closely linked to all capabilities as monitoring and evaluation is essential for expanding the evidence base, building resources and delivering results to strengthen partnerships.


  • Keep stakeholders informed - Buy-in for adaptation projects and initiatives is essential, so engage with stakeholders and government officials on the benefits of adaptation actions. Develop a communication strategy to and plan to support the changes that the partnership is working towards. Leaders and spokespeople can play an influential role in developing relationships with journalists and media outlets and are often the public face of the partnership. Key milestones such as publication of a major risk assessment or action plan should be supported by proactive communication work to secure maximum coverage and leaders should be prepared to communicate key messages and address questions effectively. This activity cuts across all the capabilities as communication is key to building the evidence base, sustaining partnerships and securing resources.


  • Recognise the power of emotion - Emotion plays a central role in how people react to climate risks and adaptation opportunities, and the subsequent decisions and judgements they make with regards to these. Both positive (adaptation success stories) and negative (personal impact stories) emotions can be leveraged to change perceptions and build support for climate action. Research and resources developed by Climate Outreach provide useful insights on communicating climate change adaptation.

When people are involved in successful projects it makes further participation more likely. Success stories can motivate stakeholders to further their own skills and step forward and take on leadership roles for future projects. Having locally representative adaptation champions leading adaptation initiatives is important, as they often have knowledge of the key actors within their communities, the power dynamics at play, and the need for climate justice and equity.

Successful leadership within adaptation partnerships needs to fulfil a range of functions in order to reach the goals and objectives of the partnership. This can encourage the development of different styles of leadership based on these goals and the knowledge and skills available within the partnership.

  • Encourage/Support leaders to emerge - Community education, engagement and empowerment is essential for place-based adaptation. Run outreach events (e.g. ambassador programmes, youth forums, etc.) to create spaces for a range of leaders to emerge and upskill local stakeholders in adaptation practises, particularly those who work in areas/sectors that will be most affected by or those who are more vulnerable to climate impacts (disadvantaged/minority groups). Encourage different styles of leadership that understand, can work with, and when necessary, challenge, the power dynamics within the place.


  • Broaden the leadership base - Promote a shift away from siloed working and encourage leadership that is not dependent upon individuals or organisations, but involves collaborative partnerships that understand and can fulfil the different functions of leadership in climate change adaptation (Figure below).

Leadership functions for climate change adaptation

Old and new power

Source: Adapted from Meijerink and Stiller (2013)

  • Encourage different actors within the partnership to take on increased responsibilities, or lead adaptation projects, rather than relying on the same people for all projects. This might involve running smaller adaptation initiatives to allow different people to build confidence and skills before progressing to larger projects. To drive transformation you need progressive leadership styles, so begin developing a network of adaptation champions, influencers and advocates that are capable of stepping into leadership roles, engaging with stakeholders and driving adaptation action forward.

Updates in the evidence base along with shifting demographics and culture within a place mean that place-based adaptation is a dynamic process that is continually changing. The vision for the partnership needs to continue to evolve as new knowledge becomes available and new stakeholders join the partnership.

Including diverse stakeholders in senior leadership positions can be used to address power imbalances and unlock opportunities for transformational change. Taking opportunities to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds provides a platform to encourage inclusion and incorporate representative adaptation processes, leading to more equitable outcomes.

  • Evolve the vision - As the evidence and information on climate impacts continues to develop and stakeholders and partnerships within a place continue to grow and change, the vision for the place must evolve to incorporate these new dimensions. Review the adaptation partnership regularly to identify if the current leadership style represents the best way to implement the evolving vision and affect positive change or if sharing or transferring power would accelerate transformational change.


  • Promote diversity at senior levels - Lead an inclusive, systems change process, so that all stakeholders within a place will benefit from climate adaptation actions. Actively recruit people from minority and disadvantaged groups to ensure equality and justice and promote these people to positions of power to ensure a representative vision for your place.


Leading transformative adaptation is not easy, and you will encounter challenges along the way. Adaptation is a dynamic process and uncertainty is something that cannot be avoided.

Leaders must embrace innovative solutions and be willing to listen to and support novel concepts from a range of stakeholders in order to develop successful adaptation initiatives that can have a lasting impact.

Sharing the responsibility of leadership and embedding core values of justice and resilience within the adaptation partnership will support transformation, while also providing a safety net whereby the failure of projects or initiatives will not stall the adaptation process.

  • Acknowledge and accept that climate adaptation is dynamic - Understand that adaptation progression is not always linear, and setbacks will occur (e.g. loss of key personnel, resources, etc.), but have robust mechanisms in place to learn from and adapt to this.
    Mainstream adaptation into networks and organisations within the place so that it is part of ‘business as usual’ and progression is not solely dependent upon specific key entities. Target leverage points that can be used to accelerate wider changes. Embed adaptation in all strategy, plans and policies and develop adaptation options that provide the highest potential for transformational change while also avoiding ‘locking-in’ path dependencies.


  • Lonsdale, K., Pringle, P. & Turner, B. 2015. Transformative adaptation: what it is, why it matters & what is needed. UK Climate Impacts Programme, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
  • Build a fearless executive and political leadership - Establish leadership that is unafraid to pioneer creative adaptation ideas/schemes that support systemic change and who will petition central government for changes in legislation and policy to strengthen place-based adaptation. Work with the executive and political leadership to emulate examples of best practice from other areas, encourage innovative ideas from a wide range of stakeholders and target leverage points that can be used to accelerate wider changes.


Strong coordination and structures within the partnership will facilitate a number of long-term and cross-sectoral projects and initiatives with multiple benefits. Having a pipeline of projects in place will help maintain momentum, encourage wider involvement and inspire systems transformation.

Leading by example and promoting successes can help foster the development of larger adaptation partnerships that extend beyond the boundaries of the place. As places become leaders in adaptation, they can use their learnings to promote positive change at a higher level, informing national strategies and advocating for wider transformation opportunities in society.

  • Employ Succession Planning - Engaging in succession planning will help identify skills gaps and training needs, retain organisational knowledge and boost morale so that there are a wide range of actors and organisations that can fulfil leadership roles. This will also allow organisations and networks to identify and develop potential future leaders and champions.
  • Collaborate with and guide others in progressing adaptation - Actively work with and guide less mature organisations and places in order to advance adaptation initiatives. This could include providing knowledge and resource to upskill actors, organising wider public engagement events (outside your place) to promote the co-benefits of adaptation actions, or involving less mature partners in larger scale and more complex adaptation collaborations. Use opportunities to influence national level change by feeding back into central government adaptation consultations and policies/strategies to strengthen and accelerate overall adaptation action within wider society.