Do you possess these 7 leadership qualities?

Sustainability leadership

by Suzanne Orme 17/8/17

Leadership is the process of leading for change rather than stability. Great leaders possess a set of abilities that enable them to recognise the need for change, create a vision to guide that change, and to execute that change effectively.


The challenges posed by globalisation, resource depletion, growing global population and climate change present an urgent need for a shift from business-as-usual. A special type of leader is needed to tackle these complex issues and embed sustainability thinking into every business decision.

According to Poly Courtice, a Director of Cambridge University’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL),

“A leader is someone who crafts a vision and inspires people to act collectively to make it happen, responding to whatever changes and challenges arise along the way.

A sustainability leader is someone who inspires and supports action towards a better world.”                    Polly Courtice, a Director of Cambridge University’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

CISL’s research suggests the following seven key characteristic traits and styles are among the most important in distinguishing the leadership approach taken by individuals tackling sustainability issues:

  • Systemic, interdisciplinary understanding;
  • Emotional intelligence and a caring attitude;
  • Values orientation that shapes culture;
  • A strong vision for making a significant difference;
  • An inclusive style that engenders trust;
  • A willingness to innovate and be radical; and
  • A long-term perspective on impacts.

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) have acknowledged the importance of leadership and commitment in environmental management systems.  In the international standard, ISO14001:2015, leadership is positioned at the core of the high level management system structure.  Top management is required to to demonstrate leadership and commitment at all stages of planning, implementing and reviewing the environmental management system.

In this revised standard – along with ISO9001:2015 Quality and ISO45001:2018 Occupational Health and Safety –  leaders have a stronger role in communicating the importance of effective management and in directing and supporting persons who can contribute. Some ways that leaders can demonstrate the new leadership requirements are the setting of objectives that are compatible with the company’s strategic direction; creating processes and procedures that require staff to apply health, safety and environmental  criteria in decision making and allocating resources for improvement initiatives.  Leaders may delegate responsibility for certain tasks but retain accountability for ensuring that the intended outcomes are reached.

To lead a successful organisation in today’s world, a leader must articulate a vision for the future that is compatible with societal goals and develop the strategic, tactical and operational plans to make this future a reality.


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