In Summary

Political leaders rank below all other categories of leaders – business, union, religious, and community leaders - in terms of perceived trust and competence, a major new study of Australian leadership by the Swinburne Leadership Institute has found.

Community leaders are far more highly thought of than other categories of leaders in both trust and competence. They are also seen as the most concerned about the wider needs of society and to take a long term perspective on problems.

The findings form part of the inaugural Swinburne Leadership Study, conducted by the Swinburne Leadership Institute, an independent centre of research and advocacy, which promotes Leadership for the Greater Good across government, the private and not-for-profit sectors and civil society.

The study found that Australians believe political leaders are motivated by their own interests rather than the greater good, and do not take a long term approach. Only trade union leaders scored worse.

Australians also believe political leaders are too little concerned with stewardship of the collective goods upon which our economic and social prosperity depends – economic infrastructure, the environment, community well-being, and democracy – which we collectively call “the commons”.

“This study is groundbreaking in two ways – firstly, it surveys leadership across the whole of society, not just in political terms. And secondly, it digs behind people’s opinions to reveal why they hold these views, and what kind of leadership Australians want,” said Professor John Fien, Executive Director of the Swinburne Leadership Institute.

The Study found that Australians want leaders who they believe

  • are making decisions in the interests of all Australians, not just their own supporters;
  • care for the long term future of the country, not just short term responses; and
  • are maintaining the infrastructure, environmental and social systems  - ‘the commons’ - upon which all economic and social development depends.

“Our intention is to conduct this survey annually, to measure changes and trends in Australians’ perspectives on leadership,” said Professor Fien.

“This first survey provides a baseline ‘snapshot’ of perceptions of leadership in Australia – and the results are both surprising and disturbing.”

“Australians have nuanced and sophisticated perceptions of the leadership they experience in Australian society. They can and do distinguish between the capabilities of leaders in different sectors, and their expectations of these leaders. This gives added weight to the judgements they make about leadership.”

“Leaders in all walks of life will find valuable insights into the public’s perceptions and expectations of them,” said Professor Fien.

The report is available on the Swinburne Leadership Institute website at