A Scout Leader generally refers to the trained adult leader of a Scout unit. The terms used vary from country to country, over time, and with the type of unit.
There are many different roles a leader can fulfill depending on the type of unit. Positions are usually voluntary and are often divided between 'uniform' and 'lay' roles.
Uniformed Scout Leaders are primarily responsible for organising the activities of the group, and training the youth members through the Scout programme. Other roles include liaison with parents, districts, or other parties such as the unit's sponsoring organisation.
Lay supporters are not always termed Scout Leaders; although they may assist with activities and training, they do not always hold a formal position and may not have received training. Beyond the Scout programme, lay supporters may take responsibility for administrative tasks such as budgets, managing properties, recruitment, equipment, transport, and many other roles.
The roles of leaders in senior units like Venture Scout, Explorer Scout and Rover Scout sections tend to be consultative, with much of the administration and activity planning in the hand of older Scouts, while in junior units like Cub Scout and Scout sections, the adult leaders need to take a more central role.
Beyond the group are further uniformed positions (sometimes called Commissioners) at levels such as district, county, council or province, depending on the structure of the national organisation. They also work along with lay teams and professionals. Training teams and other related functions are often formed at these levels. Some countries appoint a Chief Scout as the most senior uniformed member.
Training, screening and appointment of leaders
Scout Leaders participate in a series of training courses, typically aiming for the Wood Badge as the main qualification of an adult leader in Scouting. In most countries, Wood Badge holders can wear a Gilwell woggle, scarf and Wood Badge beads.
Scout Leaders are given a formal appointment (called a warrant in many countries). Before appointing an adult leader, most associations perform background checks on candidates to ensure their suitability for working with children.
Robert Baden-Powell initially used the terms Scoutmaster and Cubmaster for adult leaders, and these terms are still used in some countries and units. As the word master picked up old-fashioned connotations, it was replaced by other terms such as Scout Leader or Scouter in many Commonwealth countries, following The Scout Association in the United Kingdom.
In the Boy Scouts of America, in all Scouting units above the Cub Scout Pack, that is to say, in all those units serving adolescent Scouts, leadership of the unit is comprised of both adult and youth leaders (Scouts and Scouters). In fact, this is a critical component of the program. In order to learn leadership, the youth must actually serve in leadership roles.
A properly run Boy Scout Troop, therefore, is run by the Senior Patrol Leader, who is elected by the troop, and his assistant(s), who may either be elected or appointed. These and the other youth leaders are advised and supported by the adult leaders.
- Adult Leaders
Amongst the volunteers who provide Troop level adult leadership and support (in the US, collectively called Scouters), there are Scoutmasters (including Assistant Scoutmasters) and Committee Members. Both positions require adults to join the troop by registration. The registration process for adult leaders includes a personal reference and criminal background check, nomination by the Committee Chairman, followed by appointment by the Chartering Orgranization and concluding with acceptance by the District Executive (a professional Scouter who is an employee of the local Scout Council). Note, a Scouter may be a registered member of more than one unit. Example: a Webelos Den Leader in a Cub Pack also volunteers as an Advancement Committee Member in an older son's Boy Scout Troop.
Both Scoutmaster and Committee Members are encouraged at specific events to wear their uniforms.
There is a training continuum for both Scoutmasters and Committee Members. The training continuum for both positions includes "Youth Protection", "Fast Start" and "New Leader's Essentials". At this point the two continuums divide. In order to be "Trained" (and entitled to wear the "Trained" patch on their uniform) Committee Members must complete a fourth course "The Troop Committee Challenge." In order for Scoutmasters to wear the "Trained" patch they must complete "Scoutmaster Fundamentals" and "Introduction to Outdoor Leadership." Within 12-18 months of obtaining the status of "Trained", both Committee Members and Scoutmasters are encouraged to enroll in "21st Century Wood Badge" training.
Scoutmasters are responsible for developing and delivering the "Program" or the training of youth leadership in how to plan and run a Scout Troop's activities. The Members of the Committee are responsible for "Service" or provisioning the troop with the necessary goods and services that allow the Scoutmasters to focus solely on the program.
Committee Members may interact with Scouts. For example, they may be assisted by youth leaders (see Quartermaster) or they may provide technical training to the Scouts as Merit Badge Counselors. Committee Members most important direct interaction with Scouts occurs during Boards of Review. Committee Members assemble in groups of 3 to 6 in order to constitute Boards of Review. After a Scoutmaster has conducted a Scoutmaster Conference with the Scout and determined he is ready for advancement, a Scout must meet with a Board of Review. An important function of the Board of Review is to allow the Committee to collect data from the individual scouts about the success of the Program and deliver that feedback to the Scoutmasters. In this role, a Board of Review may also meet with a Scout whose advancement progress has stalled.
Like all Scouters, the Scoutmaster for a Troop is first nominated by the Committee, then appointed by the Chartering Organization and then finally accepted by the District Executive. The Committee Members elect a Committee Chairman. In the event that the Scoutmaster is unavailable, the Committee Chairman steps in until a new scoutmaster is obtained. The Committee also accepts the Troop schedule and budget as developed each year by the Patrol Leader's Council advised by the Scoutmaster.
While it is true that in some Troops, the Scoutmaster may be the person with the most tenure and committee membership may be transitory and in other cases the opposite may be true, effective Troops work to ensure there is balance of experienced adults working together as a team to deliver the both the best possible service and program to the Troop.
There are similar service and program splits for adult leadership in Cub Scouts, Venturing and Varsity. While there is only limited opportunity for youth leadership in Cub Scouts (see Den Chief), youth leadership takes an even stronger role in providing both service and program in Venturing.
The leader of a Cub Scout Pack is referred to as Cubmaster and he or she may be assisted by Assistant Cubmasters. Since almost all program leadership at the Cub Scouting level is adult, the Cubmaster is also assisted by any number of Den Parents or Den Leaders.
Varsity Scout Units have a Team Coach, Venture Scouting Units have a Crew Advisor, and Sea Scouting Units have a Skipper. All of these terms are used for the men or women who fill the role as the adults responsible for maintaining the program by advising the unit's youth leaders on how to plan and lead the unit's activities.
- Youth Leaders
In the Boy Scout Troop, youth leaders include Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, Senior Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader(s), Patrol Leaders, Assistant Patrol Leaders, Scribe, Quartermaster, Librarian, Chaplain Aide, Bugler, Historian, Den Chief, Troop Guide, Order of the Arrow Representative and Instructor.
The term Scoutmaster was used originally, but the term Scout Leader is now used. Other adult leaders in the Scout Troop are called Assistant Scout Leaders. Terms used in other sections are Cub Scout Leader, Assistant Cub Scout Leader, Explorer Scout Leader, Assistant Explorer Scout Leader, and so on. The Scout Group is lead by a Group Scout Leader. When Rover Scouts existed, there were Rover Scout Leaders and Assistant Rover Scout Leaders. Collectively all adult leaders are called Scouters.
The terms used in Australia are the same as those used in the United Kingdom. In the self-governing Rover Section, Crews can have Rover Advisors who are over the upper age for Rover Scouts of 26, and are, as their name suggests, advisers rather than leaders. The Crew Leader, a Rover elected to lead the Crew is the true head of a Rover Crew. The younger sections are led by Scout Leaders and Assistant Scout Leaders. At district level, these leaders are supported by District Leader - Section and the District Commissioner. Region leaders are Region Assistant Commissioners - Section, with a Region Commissioner. This format is also used in an expanded form at Branch level.
The South African Scout Association decided in the early 90s to change the name of a Scoutmaster to Scouter. The reason for this change was due to negative connotations of the word master. The terms Troop Scouter and Pack Scouter are used for adult leaders of Scout Troops and Cub Packs. Rover Crews are led by a Crew Leader.
In other countries, Scouter refers to any adult leader, professional Scout employee, or any Scout alumnus.