Many people today find themselves engaged in the “network way of working”- either as a member, partner, or leader/backbone of a cross-sector community network. These networks – referred to by many different names such as coalitions, partnerships, collaboratives, and collective impacts – are often developed as a way to leverage the collective knowledge and resources of multiple organizations and communities to address complex social problems. However, traditional approaches to managing these processes primarily include practices that hinder our ability to foster new ways of working across boundaries. Learning to be an effective network leader requires skills to build, manage, and evaluate networks of people and organizations.

At the Center on Network Science at the University of CO, we have been building the community of network leaders for over 6 years through a Network Leadership framework. Over 300 people have completed the annual Network Leadership Training Academy and are eligible for the Network Leadership credential.


Network Leadership is a framework to help people who are part of cross-sector community efforts learn how to build, manage, and evaluate effective networks.

Network Leadership is based on a set of seven values:

  • Inclusive: Network leadership is something everyone needs. This is not a model only for backbone/leadership organizations, but is designed to help build network leadership skills of anyone interacting with others. This includes managers, partners, funders, advocates, community organizers, residents, clients, and many other types of people/organizations.
  • Community and Culturally Sensitive: Each community is different and each culture has varying ways of communicating and interacting. There is no one best approach to Network Leadership. Network Leadership builds skills and capacity in order to empower network leaders/members to adapt them to their context, culture, and community.
  • Relationship Focused: At the heart of Network Leadership is the concepts of interaction, relationships, systems building, and partnerships. Almost everyone is being asked to work across sectors in partnership with others in networks (referred to by many different names such as coalitions, partnerships, collaboratives, and collective impacts) in turn bridging across boundaries and interacting with both the usual and unusual suspects. Network Leadership focuses on ways that people, communities, and organizations interact and how relationships among and within relationships affect one another and their related outcomes.
  • Skills Based: Network leadership is focused on skills, not a prescribed list of “must do’s,” including a customized set of skills to successfully engage partners in collaborative work.
  • Data Driven: Network leaders can manage and nurture relationships, but they need data to do it. Network leadership demonstrates how to build an evidence base by collecting and using many different kinds of data to make decisions.
    Reflective: With data and experience, Network Leaders practice reflection in collaboration with partners, stakeholders, and communities to determine action steps and strategies.
  • Adaptive: Network leaders use reflection to adapt their leadership practice. Many types of data are used to inform thinking and decision-making.


Knowledge Domain Competency
Building Networks –   Identifying Networks
–   Understanding Network Basics
–   Creating a Network Culture
–   Building an Inclusive Network
–   Knowledge of Network Design
–   Developing a Network
–   Options of Network Structure
Managing Networks –   Working in a Network
–   Leadership/Management for Networks
–   Identifying a High Quality Collaborative Process
–   Strategies for Effective Collaboration & Commitment
–   Effective Communicating in Networks
–   Facilitating Diverse Partners
–   Effective Network Governance
Evaluating Networks –   Knowledge of Tools for Network Assessment/Evaluation
–   Community Based Participatory Approaches to Network Evaluation
–   Analytic Analysis of Networks
–   Use of evidence to inform practice
–   Factors Related to Network Effectiveness
–   Knowledge of Social Network Analysis