Effective leaders, both voluntary and paid, facilitate successful coalitions. The attributes that characterize effective project directors, however, are unclear. Our aim was to identify characteristics of effective project directors leading community coalitions. The study examined 13 project directors who led eight community-based coalitions established to combat substance abuse. We inductively identified common characteristics and leadership effectiveness of the project directors by abstracting data from detailed ethnographic studies of these coalitions. We assessed the validity of leadership effectiveness by comparing data abstracted from ethnographic studies with two independent ratings. We then employed a cross-case comparison strategy for analyzing patterns among the common characteristics identified and leadership effectiveness. Six characteristics emerged among the project directors studied: status with community (insider vs outsider); shared leadership; bridge building skills; substance abuse expertise; vision; and management style. Shared leadership, bridge building skills, and insider status were consistently related to leadership effectiveness. Less support was found for substance abuse expertise or vision. When hiring project directors, coalition leaders may consider assessing whether candidates are "insiders" within the community and demonstrate shared leadership and bridge building skills.