Identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT)

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

swotConcept description

This concept (effective practice) deals with a technique to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with a project or venture.

Wikipedia (reference below) notes that a SWOT analysis can be carried out for a product, place, industry, or person and involves specifying the objective of the venture or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favourable and unfavourable to achieve that objective.

  • Strengths: characteristics that give it an advantage over others
  • Weaknesses: characteristics that place it at a disadvantage relative to others
  • Opportunities: elements it could exploit to its advantage
  • Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the venture or project

SWOT analysis can help refine the objectives for a project. If an initially formulated objective is judged not to be attainable, given the SWOTs, the objective can be reformulated and the SWOT analysis repeated.

Writing in Community Tool Box, Val Renault (reference below) notes that a realistic recognition of the weaknesses and threats that exist for your effort is the first step to countering them with a robust set of strategies that build upon strengths and opportunities.

Identifying internal factors – strengths and weaknesses

Renault notes that internal factors include your resources and experiences, including:

  • Human resources – staff, volunteers, board members, target population
  • Physical resources – your location, building, equipment
  • Financial – grants, funding agencies, other sources of income
  • Activities and processes – programs you run, systems you employ
  • Past experiences – building blocks for learning and success, your reputation in the community

She says not to be modest when listing your strengths.

“Start by simply listing your characteristics (e.g., we’re small, we’re connected to the neighborhood). Some of these will probably be strengths. … Identify strengths and weaknesses from both your own point of view and that of others, including those you serve or deal with, including through focus groups or surveys.”

Identifying external factors – opportunities and threats

Renault notes that no organization, group, program, or neighborhood is immune to outside events and forces. Examples include:

  • Future trends in your field or the culture
  • The economy – local, national, or international
  • Funding sources – foundations, donors, legislatures
  • Demographics – changes in the age, race, gender, culture of those you serve or in your area
  • The physical environment (Is your building in a growing part of town? Is the bus company cutting routes?)
  • Legislation (Do new federal requirements make your job harder…or easier?)
  • Local, national or international events
Steps for conducting a SWOT analysis

Renault lists the following steps:

  • Designate a leader or group facilitator who has good listening and group process skills, and who can keep things moving and on track.
  • Designate a recorder to back up the leader if your group is large. Use newsprint on a flip chart or a large board to record the analysis and discussion points.
  • Introduce the SWOT method and its purpose in your organization. This can be as simple as asking, “Where are we, where can we go?”
  • Depending on the nature of your group and the time available, let all participants introduce themselves. Then divide into groups of three to ten.
  • Have each group designate a recorder, and provide each with newsprint or dry – erase board. Direct them to create a SWOT analysis in the format you choose-a chart, columns, a matrix, or even a page for each quality.
    • Give the groups 20-30 minutes to brainstorm and fill out their own strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats chart for your program, initiative or effort. Encourage them not to rule out any ideas at this stage, or the next.
    • Remind groups that the way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. Refinement can come later. In this way, the SWOT analysis also supports valuable discussion within your group or organization as you honestly assess.
    • It helps to generate lots of comments about your organization and your program, and even to put them in multiple categories if that provokes thought.
    • Once a list has been generated, it helps to refine it to the best 10 or fewer points so that the analysis can be truly helpful.
  • Reconvene the group at the agreed-upon time to share results. Gather information from the groups, recording on the flip-chart or board. Collect and organize the differing groups’ ideas and perceptions.
    • Proceed in S-W-O-T order, recording strengths first, weaknesses second, etc.
    • Or you can begin by calling for the top priorities in each category – the strongest strength, most dangerous weakness, biggest opportunity, worst threat – and continue to work across each category.
  • Discuss and record the results. Depending on your time frame and purpose:
    • Come to some consensus about the most important items in each category
    • Relate the analysis to your vision, mission, and goals
    • Translate the analysis to action plans and strategies
  • If appropriate, prepare a written summary of the SWOT analysis to share with participants for continued use in planning and implementation.
Using the SWOT analysis

Renault suggests that a SWOT analysis can provide a better understanding the factors affecting your initiative and thus put the group in a better position for action as you:

  • Identify the issues or problems you intend to change
  • Set or reaffirm goals
  • Create an action plan

Finally, Renault suggests that during your assessment and planning:

“you might keep an image in mind to help you make the most of a SWOT analysis: Look for a “stretch,” not just a “fit.” … SWOT usually reflects your current position or situation. Therefore one drawback is that it might not encourage openness to new possibilities. You can use SWOT to justify a course that has already been decided upon, but if your goal is to grow or improve, you will want to keep this in mind.”


Wikipedia, at, accessed 6 March 2016.

Val Renault, SWOT Analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, Community Tool Box, at, accessed 6 March 2016.

Atlas topic and subject

Diagnosing (core topic) in Leadership Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 6 March 2016.

Image: Wikipedia, at, accessed 6 March 2016.