This paper aims to better understand the role of leadership in regional climate change adaptation. We first present a framework, which distinguishes five functions of leadership within inter-organizational networks: the connective, enabling, adaptive, political–administrative and dissemination functions. Next, we compare the role of leadership in two examples of regional adaptation practices which were initiated by governmental actors with two examples which were initiated by non-governmental actors. The case studies are located in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. Our research question is twofold: to what extent can the five functions of leadership be identified in practices of climate change adaptation, and are there differences in the patterns of leadership between adaptation practices which are initiated by governmental and by non-governmental actors? The study shows that although all leadership functions were fulfilled in all four cases, patterns of leadership were different and the fulfilment of leadership functions posed different challenges to non-governmental actors and governmental actors.