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As one of the most entrepreneurial nation in the world whose pride is obscured by the unusually high business mortality rates, the complexities faced by SME owner-managers are real and they demand leadership competencies beyond the rudimentary ones when owner-managers start their businesses. Leadership competencies have been proved beyond doubt to be critical factors for owner-managers of SMEs to be successful and to lead their SMEs to play the envisaged role of driving economic development. Using a quantitative and qualitative cross-sectional survey design, this paper sought to highlight the leadership competencies that are climacteric for the growth and survival of Ugandan SMEs. From empirical findings, enabling others to act, modelling the way, encouraging the heart and challenging the process were the most essential leadership competencies for SME owner-managers and inspiring a shared vision were considered to be the least essential. The result of this study can be seen as vital information for business advisors, policy makers and leadership practioners in SMEs and educators to help them design effective training programs that target enrichment of the enlisted leadership competencies. Explicit implications and suggestions for SMEs through deliberate context specific interventions are proposed.