November 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 6 // Feature Articles // 6FEA4

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Sharing the 4-H Job With Leaders

Which 4-H program tasks should be performed by leaders and which by agents? Do leaders and agents agree on who's responsible? Results from this study of leaders and agents in Louisiana could lead to more effective use of leaders.

Robert F. Richard
4-H County Agent
Cooperative Extension Service
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Satish Verma
Specialist, Program Development and Professor, Extension Education
Cooperative Extension Service
Louisiana State University - Baton Rouge

Ideally, Extension agents and volunteer leaders should share responsibility for Extension 4-H programs if they're to grow in membership and quality. Increasingly, in this task, agents need to look to leaders to assume greater program responsibility. Leaders, by the same token, need to be better trained and supervised.

In practice, generally speaking, agents continue to be largely program executors rather than program and people managers. This may be the result of an Extension organization's philosophy and/or the personal style of agents. Whatever the reason, it's evident that, as professional resources and public funds become scarcer, leaders will need to play a more significant role in 4-H work.

Leader Job Description

If leaders are to take on greater responsibilities, it's important that they and Extension agents have a unified view of leader tasks. A realistic leader job description can help. In fact, the value of some type of job description in all phases of leadershi development is documented in the literature.

Boone,1 Krech,2 and Greenawalt3 indicate that leaders would have done a better job if their responsibilities were clarified and better understood. Hass found that leaders stayed longer in 4-H if they could explain their role.4 A study of Louisiana agents showed that leaders needed help in learning their role.5

Duncan observed that potential leaders could be matched to job tasks, and given proper training in these tasks.6 The University of Missouri's Bill of Rights for Volunteers includes the right to a suitable assignment and the right to know as much as possible about the organization and his/her job.7

Eventually, the preparation of a job description for volunteer leaders falls on the Extension agent. Naturally, the agent's perception of what leaders should do will have an influence. How leaders view their role in the program is also important, and should be considered by agents as job descriptions are prepared.

Duncan8 found that a majority of 4-H agents with more tenure felt that all tasks9 assigned to them could be done by someone else (a volunteer, for example). In contrast, newer agents tended to do all tasks. Considering the views of leaders, Schwertzio10 and Gamonl11 found that leaders who had more tasks to perform were more satisfied with their job.

Leader Job Study

Assuming that Extension agents are committed to leadership development in the 4-H program, and that volunteer leaders are willing to give of their time and talent, a study was undertaken in a 7-county area in Louisiana to find out how Extension agents and volunteer leaders perce'wed the role of the 4-H leader. It was felt that agreement between agents and leaders could serve as a basis for developing leader job descriptions and promoting better understanding and working relations among volunteer leaders and agents.

All 20 agents and a proportionate sample of 108 leaders in 7 counties participated in the study. The leader sample represented one-fourth of all 4-H leaders and was randomly drawn.

Agents and leaders were personally interviewed. They were asked to indicate which program tasks should be performed primarily by agents, primarily by leaders, and by agents and leaders jointly. Selected personal characteristics, opinions about leader recruitment and training, and other aspects of the 4-H program were also obtained.

Various activities performed by the agents and leaders during a club year were listed and categorized, and 26 program tasks were identified. These were grouped as tasks dealing with the supervision of club enrollment (5 tasks), management of the local club program (11 tasks), leader recruitment (3 tasks), and supervision of county contests and activities (7 tasks).


A majority of the agents and leaders agreed that leaders should be mainly responsible for 15 tasks, that agents and leaders should share the responsibility for 4 tasks, and that agents be mainly responsible for 1 task. For the remaining six tasks, the basic difference in five instances was that leaders felt agents should be responsible, while agents wanted to share the responsibility. On one task, leaders felt they should be responsible, while agents again wanted shared responsibility. This information is presented in Table 1.

Table 1. 4-H program tasks agreement and disagreement items.


Leaders Responsible
Supervising Club Enrollment
  1. Supervise election of officers.
  2. Collect and return enrollment cards to 4-H office.
  3. Make project membership and enrollment lists.
Managing Local Club Program
  1. Conduct election of officers.
  2. Prepare club meeting programs.
  3. Plan and conduct 4-H Week activities.
  4. Plan and conduct fund-raising activities.
  5. Plan and conduct monthly activities.
  6. Check individuals on project work.
  7. Arrange special club meetings.
  8. Publicize club activities.
  9. Handle/supervise photographic coverage.
Leader Recruitment and Training
  1. Select parents to serve as project leaders.
Supervising County Contests and Activities
  1. Select and train club members for county contests.
  2. Select and train club members for Achievement Day contests.
Agents and Leaders Responsible
Leader Recruitment and Training
  1. Encourage junior leadership work.
Supervising County Contests and Activities
  1. Attend county contests with club members.
  2. Attend Achievement Day with club members.
  3. Attend local fairs and festivals with club members.
Agents Responsible
  1. Conduct countywide clinics.
Major responsibility
Leader opinion
Agent opinion
Supervising Club Enrollment
1. Distribute 4-H enrollment cards
Leaders & Agents
2.Distribute project record books
Leaders & Agents
Managing Local Club Program
1. Train 4-H Club officers
Leaders & Agents
2. conduct record clinics
Leaders & Agents
Leader Recruitment & Training
1. Recruit & train other club leaders
Leaders & Agents
County Contests and activities
1. Train short course contestants
Leaders & Agents

On the tasks where consensus was lacking, apparently leaders didn't feel comfortable and/or competent to train club members, either on their own or with the help of agents. This lack of confidence could be the result of limited job perception and/or inadequate preparation for leader tasks. The study showed that leaders felt they had a good understanding of their role. However, they expressed concern about the training they'd received in various aspects of the 4-H program, and the need for additional training. A positive finding was the strong motivation among leaders-90% felt the leader's job wasn't burdensome, and 92% found the job satisfying.

Analysis of variance was used to see how leaders with more or less tenure perceived their role, and chi-square was used to study the relationship between leaders' role perception and their mode of recruitment, motivation for serving, and educational background. The results showed that it didn't make any difference to leaders how they saw their role or how long they had served as leaders, whether they'd volunteered or been appointed as leaders, and their level of motivation for continuing to serve. However, education did make a difference. College-educated leaders (mostly teachers) were less prepared than high school graduates (mostly housewives) to do routine work. But, they were more willing to train club members.

For their part, agents with more tenure (5 years or greater) felt that many of the program tasks should be undertaken by leaders compared with newer agents (less than 5 years) who were willing to assume many more tasks.

The 4-H program can be improved if Extension agents administer rather than conduct the program. This means that leaders have to be well-recruited and trained, and take responsibility for conducting much of the program....


The 4-H program can be improved if Extension agents administer rather than conduct the program. This means that leaders have to be well-recruited and trained, and take responsibility for conducting much of the program. Agents would therefore spend more time in leader recruitment, training, and supervision-and less time in 4-H meetings and activities. But before they're able to do this, agents need to learn how to establish and maintain rapport with leaders, counsel and guide them in various leader situations and techniques, and use and reward their efforts in different ways.

Early in their Extension career, agents should also be reinforced by their supervisors on the organization's commitment to 4-H leader involvement and the agent's significant role in this effort. These steps will likely result in greater motivation and a better job perception on the part of 4-H agents. All of these things should improve the 4-H program.

The finding that less-educated leaders don't mind routine tasks while more-educated people prefer more challenging tasks indicates a place and a potential for leaders with different educational backgrounds. For their part, leaders appear willing to take on responsibility if they understand what they're supposed to do, receive training in program tasks, and are provided with the opportunity to perform. Is the Extension Service ready for this? Are Extension agents willing and capable of becoming program administrators and people managers? A "yes" answer can signify new challenges and rewarding experiences.


  1. Edgar J. Boone, Factors Associated with Training 4-H Club Volunteer Leaders (Master's thesis, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1957).
  2. Russell 1. Krech, 4-H Leader Role Perception (Master's thesis, University of Colorado, Fort Collins, 1963).
  3. Thomas G. Greenawalt, A Comparative Analysis of Florida 4-H Organizational Leaders and County Extension 4-H Coordinators Perception of Selected 4-H Program Functions (Ph.D. dissertation, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 1973).
  4. Glenn Hass, "Holding on to 4-H Leaders," Journal of Extension, XVII (March/April, 1979),10-13.
  5. Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service 4-H Newsletter (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 111, 1980).
  6. Dorothy E. Duncan, 4-H Club Advisors' Concepts of Their Roles: A Study of the Opinions of Seventy 4-H Club Advisors in California (Master's thesis, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1957).
  7. Leader's Guide (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1979).
  8. Duncan, 4-H Club Advisors' Concept of Their Roles.
  9. Tasks refer to both routine activities and programming duties.
  10. Courtney Schwertz, "Volunteers as Middle Managers," Journal of Extension, XVI (November/December, 1978), 23-29.
  11. Julie Gamon, "How To Hang on to Volunteers," Journal of Extension, XVI (September/October, 1978), 6-10.