Leadership Hacks for Harm Reductionists

Roadblock Tips:

Many harm reduction programs start out as DIY operations, with one person (or a few people) doing everything from outreach to vehicle maintenance to training volunteers. This “can do” attitude is laudable but becomes problematic when organizations expand and there are others who can help, yet leaders are often reluctant, or simply don’t know how, to delegate tasks to others. Reasons for being reluctant to do so may include:

  • Thinking it would take longer to explain the task than just doing it themselves
  • Wanting to feel indispensable
  • Enjoying completing certain projects or tasks
  • Feeling guilty about adding more work onto someone else’s to-do list
  • Lacking trust in the people they need to transfer the project to
  • Secretly (or not so secretly) believing that they’re the only ones who can do the job right

Delegation is actually the key to organizational success. It creates transparency, empowers others, and reduces workloads.

Learning to delegate can be difficult. Some suggestions from existing leaders include:

  • Know what to delegate
  • Learn to let go
  • Set expectations/define desired outcome
  • Play to people’s strengths and goals
  • Provide resources and guidance, not control
  • Have faith in your team
  • Have clear lines of communication
  • Allow for failure/ be patient
  • Deliver (and ask for) feedback on the process
  • Give credit where credit is due

Look for opportunities to learn and practice delegation. This may mean leadership or management training. It may also mean simply talking to other leaders about how they delegate work to others and the challenges they have faced in order to avoid those pitfalls.

More Resources

Don’t reinvent the wheel
During our development Harm Reduction Hacks have collected together a large number of resources from around the web you can find these in our resource folder in Google Docs. We are also always looking for more so help us by suggesting any resources we may have missed.
Suggest a Resource

External Resources

Collected from around the web
There are a number of external resources that contributed to the development of Harm Reduction Hacks. Here are a selection relating to this section:


The hacks on this site are shared with you under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence. This allows you (with attribution) to adapt content for your own use, although we do ask you to then also allow others to have equal access to anything you develop. More details of this licence can be found on the Creative Commons website.


We do not claim that this is an exhaustive set of strategies, shortcuts, or tips for running an SSP. What we do suggest is that Harm Reduction Hacks offers down-to-earth, practical information for being a better leader, starting and running an SSP, and providing syringe access services. We feel we can say this with confidence because the Hacks are based on interviews with, and the experiences of, literally generations of people who have been doing harm reduction work.

Please note that nothing in this guide should be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney local to your area to ensure your program is in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations that apply to your situation. 

Harm Reduction Hacks site design and implimentation by Nigel Brunsdon

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