10 Qualities of Great Community Leaders

Develop Your Leadership Style

Community leadership is the courage, creativity and capacity to inspire participation, development and sustainability for strong communities

– Gustav Nossal

Some of the most influential members of our society don’t have an official title that designates them as a “community leader.” In any given neighborhood or municipality, it’s quite likely that individuals who hold certain roles, such as elected officials, are de facto community leaders.

But it’s equally true that many of the most prominent leaders in a given community get their influence not on the basis of any official position of authority, but rather because they possess certain traits that enable them to represent their locality and drive progressive social change.

Studies indicate that the emergence of effective leaders in a community is one of the key elements of strengthening the overall well-being of the people in that locality.

A true community leader can come in many shapes and sizes, but there are particular characteristics that are innate in almost all great leaders. Wake Forest University's Department of Counseling has illustrated many of these key character traits in this infographic.

10 Qualities of Great Community Leaders - Infographic

The various qualities of great community leaders can be summarized in three over-arching categories: desire, competency and intangibles. Let’s take a closer look at these:


Leaders can be built, but in many ways some of the prerequisites to being a great leader are things that cannot simply be learned.

A great leader has an innate desire to lead; in fact, a great leader is someone that is going to blaze trails in almost any situation, as if they don’t even have a choice in the matter.

A great community leader not only has the motivation to affect positive change in the community, but they also want to be at the forefront of that transformation.  They inherently possess the dedication and drive that is a paramount necessity in being an effective leader and they are willing to put in the time and effort towards service, selflessly providing their time and effort for the greater good.

Finally, a great leader is not only able to evolve and grow throughout the course of their leadership tenure, they have a fierce eagerness to learn and adapt. It’s not enough to just be willing to pay lip service to other people’s thoughts and ideas; an effective leader needs to be open-minded enough to “listen, learn and change course” when new perspectives on a given situation are obtained.


A potential leader can have all the desire and motivation to bolster the greater good, but without some core competencies their ability to get other people to follow their lead will fail.

Leadership is above all about influence, and it is difficult to persuade and enthuse a community if you don’t possess the requisite intelligence that inspires confidence from others.  This is more than just being “book smart” but also possessing the emotional intelligence it takes to work effectively with others.

It’s those interpersonal skills that are just as important as native intelligence.  Being able to negotiate and mediate effectively is crucial to anyone that hopes to win “buy-in” from their community.


Finally, there are some factors that are difficult to measure, but still of the utmost necessity for effective community leaders. 

These qualities tie the aforementioned characteristics together, and enable people with desire and ability to truly emerge as a leader.  Chief among these are the ability to be self-aware, to be able to take a critical look at oneself and know when to ask for help to fill a gap that may exist in one’s repertoire.

The other side of that same coin is the ability to put oneself in the shoes of other people. The quality of empathy is important for leaders because they must be able to sense how they are being perceived at any given moment and be able to adjust their approach if they are not being recognized in the most effective manner.

Finally, an effective community leader needs to be a dreamer, a big picture person who is able to see beyond the fog of day-to activities.  This forward-thinking characteristic and ability is especially crucial when trying to affect lasting social change, which is often a gradual and laborious process in which the ultimate objective might not even be achieved in this generation.

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About the Author

JD Miller is a freelance web writer who spends his time reading, watching sports, and cheering on his Texas Longhorns.