Environmental Leaders Share 3 Traits


Managers looking to effect environmental change should choose leaders who promote the welfare of other people and the environment, motivate change and can perform diverse leadership roles.

This study identifies traits and leadership styles of leaders in environmental organizations. Managers looking to effect environmental change in their organization should choose leaders who promote the welfare of other people and the environment, motivate change within the company and can perform diverse leadership roles.


Studies have shown that environmental leaders' personal and environmental values are key to creating a corporate vision and providing the guidance and motivation to effect environmental change. This study expands on previous research by exploring the specific values, personality characteristics, and behaviours of leaders in both non-profit environmental organizations and for-profit environmental product and service organizations.


Environmental leaders have personality characteristics of other effective leaders, but also have a distinct set of values and leadership behaviours:

  • Values - concern for the welfare of others and the environment, and the desire to motivate change within the company.

  • Leadership behaviours - operate as multi-talented "master managers" who simultaneously perform a wide variety of leadership and managerial roles.

  • Focus on transforming the organization by inspiring others to support their vision - this vision can be accomplished through collaboration, and empowering employees by focusing on them as individuals.

Implications for Managers

Choose environmental leaders with specific characteristics. Leaders should:

  • value the environment and other employees, be open to change, and be able to direct change;

  • have high levels of self-confidence and emotional maturity.

In general, effective leaders should:

  • have a diverse repertoire of leadership skills;

  • be charismatic and inspire others towards a vision by focusing on teamwork, communication, and concerns of individual employees. These qualities are essential for making change happen; and,

  • easily switch roles and adapt their leadership style to different situations.

Implications for Researchers

Further research could explore whether these findings apply to leadership in other sectors and beyond North America.


This research uses data from interviews with 73 leaders of environmental organizations in Canada and the United States from June 1995 to September 1996. There were 38 for-profit businesses and 33 non-profit organizations that participated in the study. These data were used to develop a model of environmental leadership.

Egri, Carolyn, & Herman, Susan. (2000). Leadership in the North American Environmental Sector: Values, Leadership Styles, and Contexts of Environmental Leaders and their Organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 43(4): 571-604.


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