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15 Leadership Traits All Great Planning Managers Possess

October is National Community Planning Month and to wrap it up, we are featuring a four-day series on planning and leadership.

Make sure you follow along with this planning and leadership series all week as we will also be highlighting:

  • Enhancing leadership capacity to lead effective planning efforts
  • Keys to being an effective planning director
  • Expert Advice: Overcoming planning challenges

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15 Leadership Traits All Great Planning Managers Possess

To successfully address the challenges of a changing society, planning managers must not only be technically proficient, but also be skilled managers and leaders. A great planning manager who exerts great leadership possesses a strong blend of technical skills, interdisciplinary thinking, and a long-term perspective. They also have strong interpersonal skills so that they can function well in both internal and external settings. And if anything, a great planning leader exhibits the confidence that will encourage others to follow, to collaborate, and to reach consensus.

If you’re just starting out as a planner in local government, consult this list from Local Planning: Contemporary Principles and Practices to make sure you're covering all of the skills needed to manage a modern planning organization. If you’re not new to the profession, do a quick audit of all of these skills, and ask yourself if you’re hitting the mark on these 15 leadership traits that all great planning managers should possess.

  1. Commitment. Demonstrates a disciplined commitment to the organization and the community.
  2. Competence. Bases actions on reason and principle; not on emotion.
  3. Courage. Assesses and takes reasonable risks; remains clam in the face of stress.
  4. Ethics. Displays sincerity, integrity, and candor at all times. Conforms to and promotes the standards of personal and professional ethics articulated in the American Planning Association’s Principles for Ethical Conduct and the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Code of Ethics.1
  5. Fairness. Treats all people equitably.
  6. Empathy. Is sensitive to the feelings, values, interests, and well-being of others.
  7. Flexibility. Is willing to adapt to new conditions and data; finds new and creative solutions to emerging issues while continuing to pursue broad goals.
  8. Inclusiveness. In keeping with the AICP Code of Ethics; seeks diverse participation in planning processes. Builds ownership by facilitating collaboration and negotiation.
  9. Inspiration. Inspires confidence and enthusiasm; encourages others to extend themselves by demonstrating mental and physical stamina.
  10. Interdisciplinary perspective. Capable of synthesizing diverse types of data and applying techniques from a range of disciplines.
  11. Critical thinking. Combines strong analytical abilities with an inquiring and open mind.
  12. Political savvy. Functions effectively in a political environment while avoiding inappropriate engagement in political activities.
  13. Sound judgment. Relies on analytical abilities to provide effective, timely decisions.
  14. Trustworthiness. Interacts with staff, elected officials, and citizens in a way that inspires trust.
  15. Vision. Sets a vision and goals that are owned throughout the organization.

Edited by Gary Hack … [et al] (2009) “Managing Planning.” Local Planning: Contemporary Principles and Practice: pp 417. ICMA: Washington, D.C.

1 American Planning Association, “Ethical Principles in Planning,” adopted May 1992, (accessed June 13, 2008); “American Institute of Certified Planners Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct,” adopted March 19, 2005, effective June 1, 2005, (accessed June 13, 2008). 

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