Top 5 Characteristics of Effective School Principals

Leadership is One of Many Characteristics of Effective School Principals

Being a school principal is a challenging career, and it takes someone with the right balance of both experience and soft skills to be effective at leading teachers and ultimately making a difference in the lives of students.

These are the top five characteristics that make effective school principals stand out above the rest:

1. They’re Visionary Leaders

It may seem obvious that principals need to excel at leadership, but specifically, to make the biggest impact when guiding a large faculty and staff, they must be visionaries. A great principal:

  • Sets a clear vision for the future
  • Creates excitement around that vision
  • Earns buy-in from his or her colleagues
  • Inspires those people to take action to achieve that vision together

That visionary leadership should also be balanced with leading by example. While principals set the tone on a high level, they should also practice leadership in even the smallest of actions. This can take place in the briefest of interactions, like holding the door, picking a piece of trash off the floor, or being fully present in a conversation.

2. They Welcome Innovation

A great school principal isn’t afraid to think outside of the box. While the best principals balance that innovation with practicality, they’re always thinking about new, progressive ideas to prepare for the future and improve their school’s learning environment.

This also involves critical listening skills; since principals aren’t in classrooms on a day-to-day basis, they look to and trust their teachers to expose problems and champion solutions. Great principals are open to new ways of doing things and don’t give up when something doesn’t go as planned.

Characteristics of Effective School Principals Include Problem Solving Skills

3. They’re Inquisitive

Being charismatic isn’t enough. The best school principals are highly engaged in conversation and ask the right questions. This skill helps them lead in two ways:

First, being truly present during conversation with a faculty member, staff member, or student builds trust and shows the person on the other end of the conversation that he or she is being heard.

Second, asking probing questions can uncover areas for improvement and open the door to growth and positive change, which is ultimately one of a principal’s primary responsibilities.

4. They Create a Culture of Accountability

Students are in school to learn hard skills — history, math, science — but they should also leave with other intangible learning, like personal accountability. This starts at the top with the principal.

A great principal will create a culture that inspires faculty members, staff members, and students alike to take ownership and personal responsibility for their actions. Some principals are even using student planners in creative ways to foster this value early on.

5. They’re Problem Solvers

A principal’s job is laden with problems. As the final decision maker on many key issues, those problems have often been present for a while before they make their way to the principal’s desk. A great principal is able to reach solutions in a fair, calm, and unbiased way, and can inspire all parties involved to move forward, together, with the path he or she sets.

While each school principal will bring a unique skill set to the job, these are five characteristics that identify the principals who make the most impact on the lives of the people they serve.

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