Traits of a Good Scrum Master

A good Scrum Master is far more than just a servant leader and agile expert

After years of being a Scrum Master and watching other Scrum Masters at work, there are a number of traits that the best Scrum Masters share. These traits make the Scrum Master effective at serving the team and organization in their agile journey.

First, let’s set some basic assumptions. I assume every Scrum Master is familiar with the Scrum Guide. They should be able to facilitate the Scrum events, though to be a good Scrum Master, they should be able to facilitate any type of meeting (with some preparation). A Scrum Master should also be able to explain the reason behind why things are done in Scrum, in order to coach reluctant team members. The Scrum Master should know enough of Scrum to mentor the team on it.

Servant Leader

Servant Leadership has almost devolved into the cliche management terminology world, like ‘strategize’. Servant Leadership looks different to many people, but I prefer to return to the root of the concept, which was inspired from the short novel “Journey to the East”. In this novel, one person ‘serves’ a large group as they embark on a spiritual journey. One day, that person vanishes and the group falls apart. Only later does the protagonist of the story realize that subtle leadership that the ‘servant’ provided. Futurama captured this sentiment when they ended an episode with the quote “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

A servant leader combines elements of both words. As aservant, they help the team by being available and helping when asked. But they are also a leader, and specifically help their team by serving them in things that fulfill their vision. A Scrum Master, as a servant leader, will help a team schedule and facilitate a design meeting if asked. A good Scrum Master will place boundaries on these asks. For instance, if asked to facilitate a discussion that would violate one of the core tenants of agile, they should instead coach the team on the importance of those ideas.


A good Scrum Master is a coach. But to be a good coach, they first must be someone who can be coached. Not every person is open to being coached. Some become set in their ways. Others become so sure of themselves that they shut themselves off to learning. Still others will listen to books, videos, or blogs, but will resist in person coaching. In each situation, a person shuts themselves off from vital resources and potentials for growth.

Growth Mindset

A Scrum Master must have a growth mindset - the belief that they and those around them can grow and learn - that things can be better tomorrow than they are today. A Scrum Master with the opposite view, fixed mindset will struggle to help their team continuously improve, and may see an end to the team’s agile journey.


To counter resistance to change, I look for a Scrum Master to be observant. They should be able to pick up on subtle hints that things aren’t right and when the timing is appropriate, shine a light on the problem. Observational skills come in many forms - using metrics, reading body language, conversations with the team, and chatting with stakeholders. A good Scrum Master is always collecting data, data that they can later use to coach the team to improve further.

Drives relentless improvement

A good Scrum Master knows that a team’s growth never ends. They will always find ways to improve, even if the team has been together for a long time. They balance their own observations and those that the team identifies. A great Scrum Master may be so subtle in their sharing of their own observations that the team isn’t even aware that the observations came from the Scrum Master.

Emotionally Intelligent

A great Scrum Master is emotionally intelligent, knowing how to regulate their own emotions while observing the emotions of others. They use these skills to note when things are left unsaid. They help the team understand their own emotions and help them express those emotions and thoughts to stakeholders and leaders in constructive ways.

Agile Expert

A good Scrum Master will know Scrum inside and out, but will also know when to apply it and when it won’t work. They are aware of other agile frameworks, techniques, and tools and know when best to apply them. For instance, they know that Kanban works better for a production support team than Scrum.


A Scrum Master beyond an entry level position should have their own area of mastery. This is an area where they possess more skills and knowledge than their peers. This may be based on their natural talents, like building teams or facilitating meetings. It could be from a skill in their previous job, such as software engineering, quality assurance, product ownership, or project management. Having a speciality can help the immediate team, but also the larger agile organization by bringing insight to share with other Scrum Masters.


Finally, a great Scrum Master should be adaptable. They should hone their style to the team, not force the team to work within the Scrum Master’s style. A great Scrum Master will also vary the level of their coaching and the type of coaching based on where the team is. An anti-pattern in Scrum Masters is the so- called ‘Scrum Mom”, a Scrum Master who does many things for the team so they don’t have to. This may be useful for a team brand new to Scrum, as it shows the team how to do Scrum. To a well-seasoned team, a Scrum Mom is a bottle neck and has become the lid on the team’s performance - they can’t do any more work than what the Scrum Master can do. A good Scrum Master must embody the very thing they are coaching their teams to do - agility itself.


In short, a good Scrum Master is a servant leader, can be coached, possesses a growth mindset, is observant, is relentless in their pursuit of improvement for the team, is Emotionally Intelligent, knows not just Scrum inside and out but also other agile frameworks and tools, they have their own area of competency, and are themselves adaptable.

If you’re looking to improve your own skills as a Scrum Master, consider how you rank on each of these attributes. Consider how well each of the areas describes you. Beyond that, how likely are you to act according to those descriptions? What’s the percentage of time you exhibit a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset?