Peer leadership

What is it?

Peer leadership is a concept that may be integral to any peer-based intervention and is most often found in peer education programs.1,2 Peer leadership programs are also used to foster the development of leadership skills within the context of social justice.3

How does it work?

Peer leaders are individuals who already possess natural characteristics of leading others and who are nominated to take on a leadership position to carry out a more guiding and facilitating role.1,2

Peer leadership programs are based on the following premises:

  • Peer groups are powerful influences on the attitudes and behaviors of their members.
  • When young people come face to face with the realities of intolerance, they are often highly motivated to take action.
  • Peer leaders need to learn and practice basic skills and competencies to be effective.
  • Skill development occurs best when peer leaders are first exposed to a body of knowledge and then have opportunities to integrate that knowledge into their lives.3

Common ways peer leadership is used

The types of roles and responsibilities of a peer leader may include acting as a role model, educator, mentor or counselor for the respective peer group.1,2

Within the context of social justice, peer leaders are often trained to acquire knowledge and skills which help to promote the development of respectful, inclusive schools and communities. Peer leaders are encouraged to take active roles to address issues that are of most concern to them to work together in order to improve schools, communities and organisations for young people. 3

Examples of peer leadership program approaches

Peer Group Connection

PAL – Peer Assistance Leadership Program

Partners for Youth with Disabilities – Peer Leadership Program


  1. Burmaster, E 2002, Youth to Youth: A review of peer program theoretical underpinnings, forms, functions, and process- and outcome-related findings 2001-02. A literature review, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
  2. McDonald, J, Roche, A, Durbridge, M & Skinner, N 2003, Peer Education: From Evidence to Practice: An alcohol and other drugs primer, National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction, Adelaide.
  3. Anti-Defamation League 2010: A World of Difference, Peer Leadership Program, Albany NY.