The Role & Traits of a Change Agent

Organizations have seasons for the type of leadership needed to carry forth their goals and progress.  To avoid stagnation, and prepare for challenges, growth restructurings, or strategic shifts, change may often be acquired and new leadership to take the helm.  Often these leaders are referred to as change agents.  Change is difficult, however, there are leaders who do succeed at transforming their workplaces.

Not all leaders are change agents.  Those who are have defining characteristics.    Change agents see a future that others do not and are often considered visionaries.  Their foresight allows them to get ahead of an oncoming disruption or ending, possess the courage to speak up, galvanize people, keep them emotionally engaged and get their buy-in to make things happen and reap great rewards.  Additional skills include:

  • The ability to sell change throughout the organization often encompasses strong technical social skills.
  • An effective change agent will be able to define and communicate with people in a non-threatening manner and define what is expected of them
  • As change can create substantial resistance and criticism, a change agent must be thick-skinned to face this.
  • Change agents develop relationships built on trust and commitment.

change agentAccording to a Harvard Business Review article, a critical element to success is the personal relationships and networks that change agents have with colleagues.  Formal authority may provide a measure of influence, but informal networks do matter and are relevant to the type of change to be initiated.  If dramatic reforms are required, a change agent has a clear advantage if they position themselves as central to the organization’s informal network, whereby, they can bridge disconnected groups and individuals.  Secondly, if the change is related to a particular group, the appointed change agent would be more effective by having relationships within the cohesive groups—demonstrated to be better for minor changes.  Lastly, be mindful of your relationships with influencers and cultivate fence-sitters, but handle resisters on a case-by-case basis.  If you are pursuing a disruptive initiative, it is beneficial to hear them out and understand their opposition–the change may or may not be the right choice.

One thing all leaders should keep in mind as they begin a change initiative is that a period of chaos may likely ensue, whether related to poor implementation or resistance, things could appear to be getting worse before better—there will be a gap to where one wants to be. Therefore, a good strategy includes the following:

  • Widespread organizational support, perhaps using a plan that has proven effective elsewhere.
  • Use a grassroots effort and build momentum for the change among employees.
  • Translate the solution to reflect how the change will satisfy each of their needs, especially those regarding cost, quality, service, and speed.
  • Timing is critical.  Perhaps a time where there is downtime in production.

As a catalyst for producing directional change, you will be faced with the challenge of managing resistance to change.  Overcoming this may be sold one person at a time and combine a number of options to include:

  • Negotiating with key players for resources, changes in procedures, and resolving conflict.
  • Identifying potential coalitions and balancing conflicting goals and perceptions
  • Influencing others to gain commitment to project plans and ideas.
  • Realize that there is more than one right solution. The change agent has to be able to evaluate facts from different points of view.


Karen Sadowski, President
KMS Associates, Inc.



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