A. Leadership Capacity

1. Essential Leadership Qualities

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Despite the importance of leadership being very widely understood, it’s not uncommon to find leadership capacity dedicated to sustainability efforts lacking at different levels. There may be any number of reasons why this is the case. Very simply, if an organization relates to sustainability as a burden rather than a success factor, it is less likely leadership will be dedicated to the effort. After all, how often do CEO’s and other Directors commit time and attention to areas or projects that have little impact on performance? 

To develop a highly effective sustainability program, it is critical to have a group of strong leaders driving and managing change throughout the organization, as well as supporting the program at the top. However, developing strong leadership capacity is more complex than simply assembling a few effective “coordinators” or compelling “figureheads.” We are all familiar with leaders being visionary, confident, empowering and ambitious, but good leadership can also be a function of less obvious and more subtle characteristics. For quick reference, we have organized the attributes of strong leaders into three essential qualities:


Commitment refers to how invested, dedicated and resilient a leader is in pursuing an objective. Leadership’s commitment is essential to program success and can manifest itself in any number of ways including by:

  • Embracing the entire program and what it can broadly achieve, rather than what may be of personal or more immediate interest.
  • Exemplifying the perspective that sustainability can enhance performance.
  • Setting clear goals and objectives and following through on them.
  • Remaining persistent in solving problems and overcoming obstacles.
  • Enabling individuals and being patient with those who struggle or are resistant.
  • Taking ownership and responsibility for what doesn’t work out well.


The pursuit of sustainability can be a somewhat altruistic and value-driven endeavour. To achieve success, leaders must embody a strong sense of personal integrity and concern for others. Leading efforts ethically is essential as part of setting an example and ensuring progress is totally respectful of the program’s sustainability mandate.


Leadership must have the necessary skills and abilities to effectively develop and drive a sustainability program. We have segmented key competencies into four categories:

Business Competencies

  • Industry and market expertise.
  • Deep knowledge of the organization itself and how it functions.
  • Strategy, planning and analytical skills.

Management Competencies

  • Team building and coordination skills.
  • Inspiring, motivating and empowering individuals.
  • Project management expertise.

People-Oriented / Social Competencies

  • Communication and relationship management skills.
  • Rapport-building and personal influence.
  • Ability to collaborate and work well with different personality types.

Personal Competencies

  • Self-aware and motivated.
  • Organized, resourceful and creative.
  • Self-confident, assertive and flexible.

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