Building bridges from the margins: The work of leadership in social change organizations

Sonia Ospina, Erica Foldy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attention to the relational dimensions of leadership represents a new frontier of leadership research and is an expression of the growing scholarly interest in the conditions that foster collective action within and across boundaries. This article explores the antecedents of collaboration from the perspective of social change organizations engaged in processes of collaborative governance. Using a constructionist lens, the study illuminates the question how do social change leaders secure the connectedness needed for collaborative work to advance their organization's mission? The article draws on data from a national, multi-year, multi-modal qualitative study of social change organizations and their leaders. These organizations represent disenfranchised communities which aspire to influence policy makers and other social actors to change the conditions that affect their members' lives. Narrative analysis of transcripts from in-depth interviews in 38 organizations yielded five leadership practices that foster strong relational bonds either within organizations or across boundaries with others. The article describes how these practices nurture interdependence either by forging new connections, strengthening existing ones, or capitalizing on strong ones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)292-307
Number of pages16
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Cognitive shift
  • Collaborative governance
  • Constructionism
  • Leadership practices
  • Relational leadership
  • Social change leadership

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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