What Is Trait Approach?

Updated February 21, 2017

Traits build a person's personality. They define how a person acts, thinks and feels. Trait approach studies leadership. The trait approach studies the traits that create strong leaders, and identifies personality traits that increase effectiveness. Initially concerned with general leadership traits, trait approach has also been adapted to look at situational leadership to identify what traits are required for specific circumstances.


Strong leaders have a drive for responsibility. They like to complete tasks. Leaders are goal oriented and risk takers. They have problem-solving proficiency and originality. Leaders are adept in social situations and have strong self confidence and personal identity. Leaders are willing to accept the consequences of their actions and decisions and they absorb stress. Leaders are tolerant of delays and frustrations. Leaders are adept at influencing how others behave. Leaders have integrity and act with honesty and trustworthiness.


Trait approach appeases our belief about leaders that they are special and have special traits. Trait approach shows leaders as "gifted" with special qualities. Trait approach also is widely researched, so it is credible. Trait approach also focuses solely on leadership, so its results are detailed and intricate. Supervisors and managers can use trait theory to easily identify their own strengths and weaknesses and the strengths and weaknesses of their employees.


Trait approach has failed to produce a definitive list of leadership traits. It also ignores how situations affect leaders' behaviours, because some situations encourage specific traits. Situations and traits cannot be separated. Trait approach is highly subjective, because research interprets behaviours and the meaning of behaviours. Trait theory also ignores the outcome of situations. It is also difficult for individuals to change their personal traits, so training based on trait theory is difficult. Trait theory proposes that leaders have specific traits and these traits are not adaptive.


When you look at a group of traits at one time to determine how the combined traits affect behaviour, you are taking a many-trait approach. This approach searches for the combination of traits that cause specific behaviours, such as alcohol abuse and aggression. The single-trait approach explores how individual traits are formed. It also searches for the consequences of specific traits. The essential trait approach only focuses on traits that are essential or important to understand how a person acts.

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About the Author

Rebekah Smith is a writer and editor from Montana and the owner of several businesses. Smith has consulted and worked with businesses in the fields of commercial greenhouses, ecommerce, technology and home improvement. She holds a Master of Business Administration and is working on a Ph.D. in business.