Leadership models and water management

Those of you reflecting on your leadership style and looking to develop as leaders in the water sector may be interested in ‘The Seven Transformations of Leadership’, also known as the ‘Seven Action Logics’. Chris O’Neill of Hydronumerics, who is fresh out of leadership training with the Peter Cullen Trust, drew our attention to these leadership types, during an interview as a framework that can be helpful for individuals.

Research from David Rooke and William R. Torbert divides leaders into seven categories, based on their internal action logic — essentially, the way that an individual looks at their circumstances and reacts if their power or safety is challenged.

The seven types of leadership are explored briefly here. The leadership categories are useful for reflecting on what your preferred behaviours are and to allow you to choose a more appropriate style for different contexts, depending on what is needed.


Opportunists focus on personal wins and see the world, and other people, as opportunities than can be exploited. This type of leader focuses on if and how they can direct the outcome of any given situation.

Opportunist leaders in water management are focused on making themselves look good in the eyes of their superiors or the general public. To serve their needs, opportunists may aim for short-term wins, and they may overuse resources, so it is important to reign in any attempts to exploit water assets.


Diplomats aim to keep higher-status leaders happy and avoid conflict. Like Opportunists they focus on control, however, Diplomats mainly want to control their own behaviour in a situation and strive to cooperate with the rest of the group.

Diplomats may work well in large water management projects, working with others to create cooperation across various stakeholder groups.

An example of a Diplomat’s thinking comes from Brian Nash, Sustainability Director, Ingredion:

“The need to engage in dialogue with our communities has long been known in the business world, but the nature of that dialogue is expanding. We are increasingly seeing the need to discuss topics like water and biodiversity, and in many cases, it is up to businesses to lead the way in bringing various stakeholders to the table.”


Experts gain their sense of control by being incredibly well-versed in their area of expertise, using data and logic to sway others to their thinking.

Experts can provide evidence-driven advice, creating water management policies and techniques that will withstand the test of time. In addition, Experts naturally vary in how well they draw from the strengths and experiences of others in situations where multiple viewpoints are required for a solution.


Achievers want to deliver positive actions and results, and they often stick to tried and true techniques to do so. These leaders will accept feedback and view differences and conflicts as less of a threat than previous leadership styles might, allowing them to meet both immediate and long-term goals.

Andy Richardson, Head of Corporate Communications, Volac, is an example of a leader trying to achieve concrete results, saying, “The global decrease in groundwater levels and our growing reliance on surface water fuels the debate around water use and stewardship and forces questions over who has the rights over it. Businesses ha a role to play in defining these rights.”


Individualists work well with others, with an ability to see that all leadership styles are dependent on circumstances. These leaders can see and understand conflicts between principles and actions, and values and practices. This is important in water management, as many projects span a large range of personalities, values, and ideas, and an individualist leader can smooth over potential conflicts.


Strategists are willing to change existing organizational constraints and perceptions, ready and able to transform both organizations and personal beliefs. Strategists are thus readily able to effect change, and encourage others to make changes, too.

In water management, this often translates to implementing practices for sustainability, which can represent a large change from historic practices.

Andy Brown, Head of Sustainability, Anglian Water, says, “Needs for improved water quantity and quality are intensifying and we are increasingly looking for opportunities for the development of multi-sector resource management plans and an integrated approach to new water resource infrastructure.”


Alchemists are like Strategists but can handle all types of change and all types of situations at once rather than handling things one situation at a time. Alchemists can reinvent themselves, and their organizations, working with people on all spectrums of importance and dealing with priorities, both immediate and long-term.

Alchemists are rare, but ideal in many business roles, including within water management, where they can fluidly switch between all manner of issues without being ruffled.

The right style for the moment

There is no reason to feel constrained by the characterisation of your leadership style. Leaders should have the capacity to grow and change to meet water management challenges as they arrive. An opportunist can become an alchemist. All he or she needs is the right leadership training and experience.

Read more about the leadership types here

Skip to content