The information below is taken from the 2013 printing of "Guide to Advancement", BSA Publication 33088 (SKU 618673), which replaced the former publication 33088 entitled "Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures", and the 2011 Guide to Advancement. The Guide to Advancement is the official Boy Scouts of America source on advancement procedures.
220.127.116.11 Positions of Responsibility
“Serve actively in your unit for a period of … months in one or more … positions of responsibility” is an accomplishment every candidate for Star, Life, or Eagle must achieve. The following will help to determine whether a Scout has fulfilled the requirement.
18.104.22.168.1 Positions Must Be Chosen From Among Those Listed.
The position must be listed in the position of responsibility requirement shown in the most current edition of Boy Scout Requirements. Since more than one member may hold some positions—“instructor,” for example—it is expected that even very large units are able to provide sufficient opportunities within the list. The only exception involves Lone Scouts, who may use positions in school, their place of worship, in a club, or elsewhere in the community. Units do not have authority to require specific positions of responsibility for a rank. For example, they must not require a Scout to be senior patrol leader to obtain the Eagle rank.
Service in positions of responsibility in provisional units, such as a jamboree troop or Philmont trek crew, do not count toward this requirement.
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 one, he or she 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.”
22.214.171.124.2 Meeting the Time Test May Involve Any Number of Positions.
The requirement calls for a period of months. Any number of positions may be held as long as total service time equals at least the number of months required. Holding simultaneous positions does not shorten the required number of months. Positions need not flow from one to the other; there may be gaps between them. This applies to all qualified members including Lone Scouts.
When a Scout assumes a position of responsibility, something related to the desired results must happen.
126.96.36.199.3 Meeting Unit Expectations.
If a unit has established expectations for positions of responsibility, and if, within reason (see the note under “Rank Requirements Overview,” 188.8.131.52), based on his personal skill set, the Scout meets them, he fulfills the requirement. When a Scout assumes a position, something related to the desired results must happen. It is a disservice to the Scout and to the unit to reward work that has not been done. Holding a position and doing nothing, producing no results, is unacceptable. Some degree of responsibility must be practiced, taken, or accepted.
184.108.40.206.4 Meeting the Requirement in the Absence of Unit Expectations.
It is best when a Scout’s leaders provide him position descriptions, and then direction, coaching, and support. Where this occurs, and is done well, the young man will likely succeed. When this support, for whatever reason, is unavailable or otherwise not provided—or when there are no clearly established expectations—then an adult leader or the Scout, or both, should work out the responsibilities to fulfill. In doing so, neither the position’s purpose nor degree of difficulty may be altered significantly or diminished. BSA literature provides the basis for this effort: the Scoutmaster Handbook, No. 33009, (“The Boy-Led Troop”); the Patrol Leader Handbook, No. 32502 (“Your Patrol and Your Troop”); the Varsity Scout Guidebook, No. 34827 (in explanations of team organization); the Venturing Leader Manual, No. 34655 (“Leadership in the Crew”); and the Sea Scout Manual, No. 33239 (“Officers’ Responsibilities”).
Under the above scenario, if it is left to the Scout to determine what should be done, and he makes a reasonable effort to perform accordingly for the time specified, then he fulfills this requirement. Even if his results are not necessarily what the unit leader, members of a board of review, or others involved may want to see, he must not be held to unestablished expectations.
220.127.116.11.5 When Responsibilities Are Not Met.
If a unit has clearly established expectations for position(s) held,
then—within reason—a Scout must meet them through the prescribed time. If he
is not meeting expectations, then this must be communicated early. Unit
leadership may work toward a constructive result by asking him what he
thinks he should be accomplishing. What is his concept of the position? What
does he think his troop
leaders—youth and adult—expect? What has he done well? What needs improvement? Often this questioning approach can lead a young man to the decision to measure up. He will tell the leaders how much of the service time should be recorded.
If it becomes clear nothing will improve his performance, then it is acceptable to remove the Scout from his position. It is the unit leader’s responsibility to address these situations promptly. Every effort should have been made while he was in the position to ensure he understood expectations and was regularly supported toward reasonably acceptable performance. It is unfair and inappropriate—after six months, for example—to surprise a boy who thinks he has been doing fine, with news that his performance is now considered unsatisfactory. In this case, he must be given credit for the time.
Only in rare cases — if ever — should troop leaders inform a Scout that time, once served, will not count.
If a Scout believes he has performed his duties satisfactorily, but his leaders disagree, then the possibility that expectations are unreasonable or were not clearly conveyed to the youth should be considered. If after discussions between the Scout and his leaders—and perhaps including his parents or guardians—he believes he is being held to unreasonable expectations, then upon completing the remaining requirements, he must be granted a board of review. If he is an Eagle candidate, then he may request a board of review under disputed circumstances (see “Initiating Eagle Scout Board of Review Under Disputed Circumstances,” 18.104.22.168).
22.214.171.124.6 "Responsibility" and "Leadership."
Many suggest this requirement should call for a position of “leadership” rather than simply of “responsibility.” Taking and accepting responsibility, however, 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.