A teenager’s life is full of responsibilities. Get good grades! Take care of the family car! Show up on time for your summer job!
Their life in Scouting is no different. Young people who want to earn the Star, Life or Eagle ranks in Scouts BSA must take on responsibilities, too.
We call them “positions of responsibility,” and they come with a title like patrol leader, den chief or quartermaster. They also come with a patch for the left sleeve of a uniform shirt — an outward symbol that others are counting on them.
But there’s one big difference between Scouting responsibilities and those in other parts of a young person’s life. Positions of responsibility in Scouting offer a place where it’s OK to mess up — a safe space to learn from mistakes.
That fact alone makes holding a position of responsibility one of the most impactful experiences in Scouting. And it’s why every Eagle Scout must spend at least 16 months in a position of responsibility before earning the highest honor in Scouts BSA.
We’ve established how important these positions are to young people. Now let’s take an even closer look with six things you need to know about Scouting positions of responsibility.
1. Only certain positions of responsibility count toward rank advancement.
As we outlined in this blog post from 2017 (updated this year), only certain positions of responsibility will count toward rank advancement.
The list is pretty long, with 16 eligible positions in a Scouts BSA troop for Star and Life and 15 for Eagle. But look at the list closely, because not every position counts.
For example, serving as an assistant patrol leader is a great way for a younger Scout to gain leadership experience, but it won’t count toward the rank requirement for Star, Life or Eagle. Every troop could benefit from a quality bugler, but that position won’t count toward the requirement for Eagle.
We suggest that Scouts review the list closely to make sure they’re taking on positions that will meet the requirement.
Don’t forget that young people who earn First Class in a Scouts BSA troop are eligible to continue their journey to the Eagle Scout Award in a Sea Scout ship or Venturing crew. The list linked in the previous paragraph outlines eligible positions of responsibility in those programs as well.
2. These are positions of responsibility, not leadership positions.
You might hear some people refer to positions of responsibility as “leadership positions,” but that’s not accurate. Serving as troop scribe, quartermaster or historian is a big responsibility, but those positions don’t require leading others.
That doesn’t make these positions any less valuable, according to the 2019 Guide to Advancement:
Taking and accepting responsibility … is a key foundation for leadership. One cannot lead effectively without it. The requirement as written recognizes the different personalities, talents and skill sets in all of us. Some seem destined to be ‘the leader of the group.’ Others provide quality support and strong examples behind the scenes. Without the latter, the leaders in charge have little chance for success. Thus, the work of the supporters becomes part of the overall leadership effort.
Companies only have one CEO, and troops only have one senior patrol leader. But those leaders at the top couldn’t function without everyone doing their best to fulfill their roles — whether that involves leading others or not.
3. Units cannot require specific positions for a rank.
If there’s a single recurring theme to the Guide to Advancement, it’s this: leaders cannot add to, modify or remove requirements. Scouts should complete the requirements as written.
The latest issue of the Advancement News, the BSA’s official newsletter about advancement, explains how this applies to positions of responsibility.
Scouts may complete the position of responsibility requirement using any position they choose. A Scoutmaster cannot, for example, tell a Scout that they must serve as senior patrol leader to become an Eagle Scout.
4. A leadership project can be completed instead of a position of responsibility for Star or Life.
For the Star or Life ranks (but not Eagle), a Scout can complete a leadership project instead of a position of responsibility.
The Guide to Advancement (18.104.22.168.1) explains:
For Star and Life ranks only, a unit leader may assign, as a substitute for the position of responsibility, a leadership project that helps the unit. If this is done, the unit leader should consult the unit committee and unit advancement coordinator to arrive at suitable standards. The experience should provide lessons similar to those of the listed positions, but it must not be confused with, or compared to, the scope of an Eagle Scout service project. It may be productive in many cases for the Scout to propose a leadership project that is discussed with the unit leader and then “assigned.”
5. Scouts can combine multiple positions to meet the requirement.
Section 22.214.171.124.2 of the Guide to Advancement explains that meeting the time requirement for a position of responsibility can involve multiple positions.
“Any number of positions may be held as long as total service time equals at least the number of months required,” the Guide explains.
For example, to earn the Life rank, a Star Scout must serve six months in a position of responsibility. But that could be completed using any combination of positions, such as:
- Six months as den chief
- Three months as patrol leader and three months as quartermaster
- Two months as senior patrol leader, two months as webmaster and two months as chaplain aide
The Guide also notes that these months do not have to be completed without gaps — one after the other. A Scout could fulfill the requirement by, for example, serving three months as patrol leader, then spending six months with no position of responsibility, and then serving three months as scribe.
Finally, it’s worth adding that a Scout who holds two positions at the same time can’t complete this requirement any faster. If a Scout spends three months serving as both scribe and den chief, for instance, that still just counts as three months.
6. If a unit takes the summer off, that time still counts.
We covered this back in 2014, but the guidance still applies: Scout units that take time off, such as during the summer months, cannot press “pause” on any advancement during that time.
This is covered in the Guide to Advancement (126.96.36.199):
Scouting is a year-round program administered by the adult leaders. Units should not be taking time off during the summer or at other times of the year. Regardless of a unit’s expectations or policy, if a unit takes time off it must count that time toward the Scout’s active participation requirement. The Scout must not be penalized because the unit has chosen not to meet or conduct other activities for a period of time.
So if a Scout is elected patrol leader in April and their unit chooses not to meet in June, July or August, those months still count and the Scout would be on track to complete the six-months requirement in September.
All Scout leaders, but especially those responsible for tracking Scout advancement, might want to review section 188.8.131.52 of the Guide to Advancement.
And to keep up with the latest news on all things advancement, check out Advancement News, published every other month.