Important traits of a principal, school leader

Who is a leader? Succinctly expressed by John C Maxwell, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. Leaders are expected to lead, empower, collaborate with, motivate, inspire, and encourage the staff, as well as create a culture where the staff members feel ownership in what they do to achieve the goals of the organization. Leadership is not a position, but a process.


There are multiple leadership styles based on an individual’s personality. These styles have their own pros and cons. To be an effective leader, one must understand these styles of leadership, and work to increase the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of their leadership method. The major styles are –

  1. Authoritative: In this style, the leader tells the team members what is to be done and how it should be done, without taking their advice or inputs. This style is usually used when the leader has all the information to solve the problem, there is shortage of time, and the team is well motivated.

  2. Participative: In this style, the leader involves other team members in the decision- making process using their strengths, skills and knowledge, but the leader retains the final decision-making authority. This enhances teamwork.

  3. Delegative: In this style, the leader allows certain team members to make the decision but remains responsible for the decisions made. This style is used where those certain team members are fully trained and have the required knowledge and skills and can be trusted.

For any organization to flourish and succeed, the leader plays a pivotal role. Schools are no exceptions. In our society, school principals are one of the most important leaders as they are instrumental in shaping the education of our children. A school leader or principal handles a big team of staff, many students, and the parent community. Hence, they need to be a strong leader so that all the stakeholders respect and listen to them. A principal’s position entails leadership under three domains – administrative, pedagogical, and financial. The effectiveness of the school leader lies in being successful in all three. It is advisable for principals to have teaching leadership experiences, such as positions of academic coordinator or vice-principal, prior to donning the mantle of the principal, which enables them to develop their leadership skills by managing smaller teams.

To be a successful leader, a principal need to have the following skills and traits –

  1. Effective Communication Skills: School promoters, staff, students, and their parents are the various stakeholders with whom a principal need to communicate effectively on a regular basis. It is necessary to keep all parties informed of what is happening in school. Communication with the staff includes regular staff meetings with various agendas, brainstorming sessions for various school functions and activities, conflict resolution, communicating changes in School/HR policies, curriculum workshops. Communication with parents should be in the form of monthly newsletters for parents and Management Information System (MIS) reports should be provided to the school promoters.

  2. Innovative and Adaptable Skills: The education sector is dynamic, and subject to constant changes with the continuous evolvement of technology and emerging of new teaching techniques. A principal should possess the ability to adapt and be innovative to incorporate the changes in the curriculum, pedagogy, etc., to keep pace with progress and growth in the area of education.

  3. IT Skills:Principals ought to be upskilling themselves with the latest technology to maintain the relevance of the curriculum, teaching styles, and other educational activities. Such IT skills have enabled school leaders and their teams of teachers to move to the online teaching/learning process required in the current Covid-19 pandemic.

  4. Problem-Solving Skills: In the day, a principal is presented with a wide variety of problems, including but not limited to financial issues, staff conflicts, accidents on campus, and students’ home issues. If anybody in the school system has a problem, the principal is the person who is approached for a solution. Hence, problem-solving skills are an essential requirement for them.

  5. Delegation: A principal should be well-versed in the art of delegation for effective time-management. The decision regarding what tasks is to be delegate, and to whom, is crucial. Constant supervision and monitoring are essential to ensure that the delegated tasks are completed on time. A good leader gives credit to others when delegated tasks are accomplished and takes blame when the delegated tasks fail.

  6. Decisive and Confident: These two qualities are must-haves for any leader. This increases the confidence of all stakeholders in the principal’s ability to lead the school.

  7. People-Management Skills: A Principal should have the ability to foster commitment and team-spirit in the staff. Understanding the local community dynamics and maintaining a good rapport with the local community/parents, goes a long way in the growth and success of the school.

  8. Empathetic and Sensitive: These traits are very important as principals will be dealing with staff, parents, and teachers from different socio-economic backgrounds and home-situations, which requires sensitivity, empathy, good listening, and counselling skills to provide advice and solutions. These qualities make the staff and students feel like they can approach the principal with any issue.

  9. Clear and Focused Vision:A school leader is required to create clear, challenging, yet achievable goals for themselves and the institution.

  10. Visibility: A principal being visible in the corridors, classrooms, playgrounds, and all other areas of school campus, and interacting directly with the students and staff is extremely important. Apart from being approachable, this also provides them a better understanding of the needs of the community that they serve.

  11. Awareness of Potential Pitfalls: A school head has to be capable of making oneself and others aware about avoiding pitfalls such as lack of planning, responsibility diffusion, lack of commitment, and procrastination.


In conclusion, along with aiming to have the above-mentioned skills and traits, a school leader may need to combine the various leadership styles, viz., authoritarian (autocratic), participative (democratic), and delegative (free reign) judiciously, depending on the various forces involved between the leader, followers, and the situation.


Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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Thanks for your teachings and coaching. Be blessed

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Thank You

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