Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is seen by many CEOs as the standout performer in the Coalition Government.

Just one year into the country's top job, her charismatic persona, youthfulness and communication skills have marked her prime ministership.

CEOs in the 2018 Herald survey marked trustworthiness as her leading attribute — rated at 3.17/5 on a scale where 1=not impressive and 5=very impressive — among a range of other attributes.

A banking boss says Ardern has been a far better Prime Minister than expected. "Labour inherited a country that had been neglected for nine years. She is an amazing communicator and front person for the Government."


But there have been incidents lately that have knocked her political capital, which some respondents to the Mood of the Boardroom survey say she should be cognisant of.

Though Ardern is given credit for making the best of the cards she was dealt on election night, her Coalition management skills have been found wanting. Business leaders say she must do better when it comes to managing the relationship of the Coalition partners and ministers, and make the "hard calls" when necessary and rated that attribute 2.74/5.

"The perceptions of the public around the impact of the smaller coalition partners — Winston Peters in particular — are critical," warns a logistics boss.

ICBC NZ chair Don Brash says Ardern has a very tough job "being in a position where NZ First holds the whip hand on every issue not specifically covered in the coalition agreement."

Ardern's natural ability to communicate was frequently raised by chief executives, but they have concerns her aspirational messages can raise expectations without necessarily transferring into operational performance.

Of the attributes CEOs were asked to rate, Ardern's strategy for New Zealand received the lowest rating of 2.16/5.

Respondents say she must not lose sight of the fundamental connection between maintaining a vibrant economy and maintaining the social dividend. Some are worried there is too much focus on PR, rather than productivity.

"It would be good to see a stronger decisive approach to the 'bigger' issues — infrastructure, health, housing, education — than jumping on the bandwagon of populist policy," says Mainfreight CEO Don Braid.


Says another CEO: "The smile got her into government, but she is deeply inexperienced and is taking New Zealand down a dangerous path. Sloganism is a terrible way to run a nation."

But a company director says we need to give the Prime Minister room to breathe: "I think you have to admire her, whatever your political perspective. Being Prime Minister, being female, being young, means she will be under attack more than others would be. You have to say she is doing a good job in a difficult coalition environment."