Peer leadership traits every emerging leader should posses

Last updated on 18 August 2023

Peer leaders are equal in most ways, but they rise to the occasion when others need help or support. [Source: Shutterstock]

You don’t require a fancy job title just to be a leader; some of the best leaders are those without a manager, supervisor or CEO label. Instead, these emerging leaders are known as peer leaders and for many it’s the first foray into leadership development.

  • Peer leaders want the very best for their team because they don’t rely on a position of power to boss others around. 
  • It’s more of a natural progression with a focus on guidance and motivation to achieve common goals as equals. 
  • Peer leaders often recognise a gap in leadership and they can step up to help struggling colleagues. It could be as simple as supporting new hires or encouraging others to socially interact inside and outside of work.

The best thing about peer leadership is it can be learned. So even though it may be intuitive for some, if you want to start making waves as a leader, you can do so by focusing on these top traits.

Observational skills

It’s important to understand and recognise when and where colleagues need help. Sure, there will always be times when they reach out and ask for advice, but recognising when someone is struggling and offering to help is a true sign of peer leadership. And remember, you’re not there to take over the task, but rather to give advice or show how they can do it themselves next time. But it all starts with keen observation and a natural instinct to help out.

Positive thinking

There’s no need to be a boundless optimist when leading but a positive approach to problem-solving helps take the stress out of a challenging situation. Leaders who reluctantly help others make it feel like a chore, yet a positive mindset means everyone benefits from teamwork. The most impactful peer leaders are endearing and encourage learning, inspire improvement and praise hard work. 


Empathy is a top leadership skill which also goes hand-in-hand with compassion, another intuitive soft skill. An effective leader who can side with their peers, see things from their perspective and show compassion is always highly valued in the workplace. Your emotional instincts are crucial to fostering a supportive work environment. 

Effective listening

Active listening is an essential skill for leaders and it’s one you can practice at any time. You’re there to listen to your peers; put them in a position where they feel recognised, give them time to express their feelings and allow them to lead the conversation. Leaders should never enter a situation by barking orders and leaving. Instead, be attentive to verbal or nonverbal cues and use them as tools to build a positive exchange.


There’s a common theme among the top peer leadership traits: authenticity. Peer leaders have to be themselves, rather than trying to force leadership or opinions on others. The most respected peer leaders are genuine: there’s genuine interest in helping others with no personal gain. You’ll find some of these traits are what make authentic leaders so impactful as trust and accountability are always important for peer leaders. 


The best leaders can adapt to any situation. They’re not rigid in the way they solve problems or do things and they can embrace the fact others use different tactics or methods. So you’re not trying to convince others there’s a “better way” to get the job done. You’re willing to meet others in the middle, revise plans and help the whole team enjoy a flexible work environment where new ideas are welcomed. 


Above all else, a peer leader has to be reliable; someone who can be counted on as a mentor or advisor. Of course, this should never come at the expense of your own work, so it’s important to always communicate effectively with peers to ensure everyone understands peer leaders are still equals. You just have the knack of taking charge when others are looking for guidance. This kind of reliable peer leader is a must-have in any team. 

young leaders
emerging leaders
leadership development
peer leaders
peer leadership
soft skills
effective listening
empathy and compassion