How do systemic intermediaries obtain legitimate roles for themselves in innovation systems and transition processes? This is still an understudied question in the study of systemic intermediaries. We start from the observation that roles, or positions, are not given, but emerge in interactions as a negotiated set of rights and obligations. Inspired by positioning theory, which has its roots in symbolic interactionism, we analyse how positions are invoked in the actors’ various actions and statements (‘speech acts’) and how they draw from the mutually constructed narratives (‘storylines’) that enable and constrain the range of possible positions. We analyse, over time, the positioning of three Dutch systemic intermediaries in agriculture, energy production, and healthcare. We conclude that systemic intermediaries move together with the promise of the field and, as a consequence, have to reposition themselves. In different phases, they both profit and suffer from the dilemma between initiating and sustaining innovative systemic changes.