Patterson is well known for his international accomplishments. He represented Jamaica at the Conference on Economic Cooperation in Paris from 1976 until 1977, Commonwealth summit conferences, meetings of the Nonaligned Movement, and the Group of 77. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the chief architects of the Lome Convention and has utilized his legal skill in leading successful negotiations between the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. He is also known to be one of the key players in the evolution of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) into the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). Patterson is now the chairman of this body and his goal for the region is to achieve a single market economy before the end of this century.
As prime minister, he spearheaded the ending of an 18-year borrowing relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), creating a platform for Jamaica to gain control over its economic affairs. He has introduced a national industrial policy and a national land and shelter policy. Patterson also introduced the "Operation Pride" program, which assists in the country's housing needs. His administration established several programs for the young and the elderly, including the National Youth Service, Special Training and Empowerment Program, (STEP), and the Jamaica Drugs for the Elderly Program.
Although Patterson is not as charismatic as his predecessor, Michael Manley, he has gained popularity because of his international achievements, his administrative skills, and his professed intention to create strong moral principles in all aspects of national life. His historic victory at the polls in 1997 demonstrates that he has moved out of the shadow of Michael Manley and is no longer perceived as simply a manager. He is now viewed as a man of the people, who has made vigorous attempts to understand all classes of society through face-to-face public discussions.