6 traits that make a design leader effective

6 traits that make a design leader effective

What personality traits do you need to evaluate when you’re about to hire a person to take on a design leader role in a team? Integrity, confidence, and persistence are important for leaders. But still, are these traits alone enough to make a person a great design leader? Will they be able to navigate relevant challenges with success?

If you’re currently hiring a design leader for your team or recruiting one on behalf of someone else, stay with us. Below we’ll examine in short the personality traits you need to look for that role. And not only this, we’ll also suggest a way to filter candidates against them.

What does it take to lead a design team? 

A design leader should be capable of brainstorming and implementing execution strategies within a team. And this holds true regardless of the job title naming—be it the head of design, design manager, etc. – and the type of firm currently hiring; be it a big company, an agency or an early-stage startup. 

The skills required to run a design team efficiently in all aforementioned scenarios vary. However, being an effective design leader is usually also a matter of personality. That is to say, there are traits that when found in a person—namely a designer—they increase the odds of them being effective in their role; as a design leader.

Put another way, not all good designers can make effective design leaders. And not only this. Some may not pursue said role for various reasons. They may prefer to continue sharpening their skills in the field rather than reduce their capacity as operators by taking on a design leader role. So how can you select the one who is highly likely to be more suitable for that role? Keep reading.

Personality qualities that make a design leader effective in their role

Not all designers are suitable for the role of a design leader; as mentioned earlier. However, being an effective design leader requires qualities that are also essential for one’s role as an individual contributor. Below we give you an indicative list of these qualities showing you the way they affect both the roles; of a designer and a design lead:


The ability to communicate thoughts and ideas clearly is one of the most important traits designers should possess. And that holds true regardless of whether a designer holds a leadership role or not. It’s critical for them to be able to express their opinions with confidence and also to explain the solutions they have already produced —or are about to produce— with clarity.

In a similar way, the role of a design leader is equally demanding in terms of communication skills. More specifically, design leaders should be able to communicate effectively requests, problems, feedback and strategic plans of actions they come up with. Why? For the simple reason that a person that holds a design leader role is usually the interface between the design team and the rest of the teams within a company. Direct reports, peer managers of adjacent teams, executives and stakeholders, all hinge on this role. A role that is responsible for ensuring design work maintains consistency across all channels. And one that also supports the company’s objectives. From matching products and services with customers’ needs to creating visuals so as to entice the audience’s interest, design-led companies rely on head designers to navigate said challenges efficiently. Similarly, the orchestration of all aforementioned parameters equally relies on their ability to establish transparent communication, clearly define problems and free up time by reducing back-and-forths. Achieving that (hopefully) helps all team members produce quality work. 


Designers should be able to understand audience preferences and captivate them with their creations. Matter of fact, the ability to influence people and their perspective on life is at the core of what it means to be a designer. Their influence repertoire starts with prototyping that helps them share bold ideas with team members and consequently convince customers or supervisors etc.

In a similar fashion, the key to successful leadership calls for influence rather than authority. A design leader should be mindful of the human-to-human interactions within their team. They should be also able to understand what motivates team members and what makes each one of them stay committed to the team’s objectives and the company’s goals.


Being proactive is deeply ingrained in designers’ thinking. Why? Well, their role requires them to constantly search for solutions to make future situations easier, more convenient or more comprehensive for their audience. Put simply, good designers anticipate problems. And thus they do their best to modify deliverables with said objectives in mind. 

Proactivity is equally important for those in design leader roles. Why hire a designer manager who feels uncomfortable when taking initiative? An effective design leader should be able to employ strategic thinking so as to help their team and the whole organization produce fruitful, long-term results that help drive success forward.  

Emotional intelligence

It’s not only skills and accumulated experience that help a professional stand out. To navigate challenges, build trust, and be mutually productive at work, we must be able to comprehend our own emotions and to also recognize and influence others’ emotions. This is all the more so true for designers. Why? Well, they should be able to understand the emotional effect of each piece of work they produce will have on their audience.

People holding a design leader role should be able to not only understand the user’s motivations by changing their perspective. In addition, they should respect, support, understand, and act accordingly on the perspectives of other team members. Thus, being self-aware, actively listening, showing empathy and so forth. All in all, evaluating people skills is of paramount importance when hiring a design leader.


Designers should cultivate a sense of humility and not seek recognition or attention. It is also critical for them to be able to understand that people think in different ways. And to be also able to accommodate said differences in their deliverables.

A design leader should be able to practice humility too. Instead of showing off, they should focus on empowering their team members. This will help build trust and will also help smoothen collaboration, creation, and development. Also, a leader characterized by humility is highly likely to keep an open mind to new ideas, practice compassion, and take responsibility whenever inevitable mistakes— bound to happen—get in the way of progress.


Self-confidence is as important as humility. As a matter of fact, one must have a healthy dose of confidence and self-assurance in order to be able to perform efficiently any job at hand. 

Designers for example must be confident with respect to their ability to make well-informed decisions in their day-to-day tasks. Whatever those may be.

Self-confidence is all the more critical for people in design leader roles. Establishing credibility, fueling motivation, taking risks, inspiring others to jointly work to accomplish goals, and so forth; all require people in the saddle to have enough self-confidence to pursue them.

Getting ready to hire a new design leader? 

If you’re right there, then why not evaluate candidates against the aforementioned qualities? By doing so you’ll be able to make a more informed hiring decision. Note here that this is critical regardless of the previous roles the person-to-hire had in the past. Or any accumulated experience they may have in leadership roles. Your goal is to reduce the hiring risk. And that would be feasible only if you use a software solution that is based on quantitative data. And that’s TraitForward. With it, you will not only manage to assess the personality of each one of the candidates applying for the design leader role you’re aiming to fill. You’ll also be able to put side-by-side candidates’ personality reports and wisely prepare your next steps. And this will be easier if you make the most of the job-specific interview guide we provide you with for your follow-up interviews. Do you want to filter candidates and choose the one that gets the highest score in all aforementioned qualities?

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