Among the many observations made about William Donald Schaefer since his death on Monday, one of the most common has been the lament that we don't have leaders like him anymore. It's certainly true; with all due respect to our current crop of elected officials, none of them has anything close to his legacy. Maybe he was one of a kind, and maybe he was a product of circumstances that cannot (and perhaps should not) be repeated. Nonetheless, Mr. Schaefer's remarkable career offers plenty of lessons to those who aspire to leave an imprint on the state like the one he did. Here are a few tips to politicians looking for the secret of his success:

Build things

There aren't a lot of statues erected in honor of mayors who managed to hold the line on property taxes or successfully outsourced trash collection. But there is one of Mr. Schaefer next to the Inner Harbor, which he succeeded in getting built despite widespread opposition. You could put one of him next to Oriole Park, M&T Bank Stadium, the Baltimore Convention Center, the light rail, bridges on the Eastern Shore or any number of other projects across the city and state. Even the bungled "highway to nowhere" served as a monument to his legacy.

Sweat the small stuff

If he saw a pothole, he wanted it filled. If he saw trash, he wanted it picked up. If he saw an abandoned car, he wanted it gone. The transformational projects that renewed Baltimore's waterfront and surrounding neighborhoods would never have happened if the people didn't believe he shared their concerns, and what really bothers people aren't necessarily the city's big problems but the ones right in front of their doors. Mr. Schaefer conveyed the sense that he was just as annoyed by the graffiti on a wall as the person who owned it, and nobody had to ask him to deal with it, he found it on his own. He wasn't just out there trying to convince people the city was a great place, he was making sure it actually was.

Do things for the right reasons

A notable detail from Mr. Schaefer's biography: Unlike many of his contemporaries, he never went to jail. He wasn't even indicted. For someone who served at the same time as Spiro Agnew, Dale Anderson, Marvin Mandel and many others in a dark period of Maryland politics, that's saying something. It's not that Mr. Schaefer was the poster child for by-the-books government transparency; he cut corners, bypassed the City Council and steered plenty of government contracts to his friends. As much as he liked to brush it off, the complaints that he set up a "shadow government" were real.

But the reason people were willing to forgive it was that he never did any of it for personal gain. Plenty of people got rich because of the way he did business, but he wasn't one of them. Modern day politicians wouldn't be wise to try to emulate his approach to procurement rules and accountability — Mr. Schaefer may have gotten things done his way, but probably at a steep premium for the city's coffers. But they should understand that they can be forgiven for a lot of mistakes if people believe their motives aren't selfish.

Work your way up

When he was first elected mayor of Baltimore, Mr. Schaefer was older than Gov. Martin O'Malley is now. He was not some kind of phenom politician but rather a product of wait-your-turn machine politics. There were plenty of things wrong with the machine — not the least of which was a legacy of racial exclusion — but one benefit was that politicians got plenty of seasoning before they moved up the ranks. By the time he became mayor, Mr. Schaefer knew who he was, what he wanted to do and how to get it done.

Be an executive, preferably mayor

Mr. Schaefer would never have built the kind of legacy he did if he had stayed on the City Council, or if he had won one of those two elections for House of Delegates he lost in the early 1950s. Take the example of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. She shares much in common with Mr. Schaefer — she is colorful, demanding, pugnacious and authentically Baltimorean. But she is one of 100, forced to work through the committee and party structures of Washington. As much as she brings home the bacon for Maryland, her accomplishments are all shared. Mr. Schaefer was one of one, and his accomplishments are his alone.

Being mayor provided the ideal platform for someone like Mr. Schaefer. It was big enough to accommodate his vision but small enough that he did not lose touch with the people who put him in office. At the end of Mr. Schaefer's political career, he said nothing he ever did was better than being mayor because it gave him the chance to directly help people every day. Governors and presidents may have more power, but they probably can't make the same claim.

Focus on the job you have

Mr. Schaefer's chief beef with Mr. O'Malley was the younger man's ambition. Part of this was due to Mr. Schaefer's conclusion that being mayor is a lot better than being governor (something Mr. O'Malley now readily acknowledges), but part of it is because he knew that making decisions based on how they will set you up for the next job inevitably shortchanges the one you have. If Mr. Schaefer had been angling at statewide office, he couldn't have advocated so fiercely and parochially for Baltimore. Furthermore, Mr. Schaefer proves that nothing helps you land in higher office more than doing a great job at the one you have; once he was coaxed into running for governor, he won the 1986 general election with 84 percent of the vote.

Be demanding but loyal

Working for William Donald Schaefer wasn't easy. One of his chief management techniques was yelling at people, and he did not tolerate mistakes. Being mayor was a 24/7 job for Mr. Schaefer, and he insisted that his aides view their jobs the same way. Those who couldn't handle that didn't last long. But those who did say Mr. Schaefer was also kind, generous and supportive. He demanded loyalty but returned it in abundance. The proof? In his final days, it was a cadre of former aides from across his career — City Hall through the comptroller's office — who cared for and comforted him, and who are now defining his legacy.

Know when to quit

Mr. Schaefer gets credit for professionalism in the management of the comptroller's office and for helping to turn around the state retirement system in his latter years. But in general, who could argue that his legacy would not shine just a little brighter if he had left office at least four years earlier, and maybe not run for comptroller at all? Mr. Schaefer was not suited to be a second fiddle, and that's what the comptroller is. Whether it was due to frustration at his role, old age and cantankerousness, or something else, the string of insults and outrages in his final years — from a rant about immigrants to the infamous "walk again" incident — diminished his luster. It's better to leave on top.

Understand that it may not be enough

For all the deserved praise Mr. Schaefer is getting as the savior of Baltimore, the city still needs a lot more saving. Mr. Schaefer injected new life into downtown and helped resurrect some neighborhoods, but he didn't come close to stopping the population loss or eliminating the poverty that have held Baltimore back, and he did little to fix the ailing school system. If we look at any of the metrics we now use as shorthand for leadership — homicide rates, property tax rates, test scores — Mr. Schaefer might not look so good. But he could not have tried harder or wanted it more, and that, above all, is why he will never be forgotten.