Qualities Of Highly Effective School Principals

There is no doubt that school principals have one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, jobs around. A principal is a steward of the school—setting the core values that will move students toward academic achievement and staff toward professional success.

What Makes a Great Principal

The best principals know the importance of their roles and fulfill their duties with commitment, purpose, and steady effort.

So then, what are the qualities that make a principal great? While research on the topic is wide and varied, there are some common behaviors, according to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory, that great principals exhibit, including:

  • The ability to establish and share a vision of academic success.
  • Encouraging cooperation and collaboration among teachers, staff, and students.
  • Developing leadership skills in school staff.
  • Helping teachers and students reach their fullest potential through continuous learning opportunities.
  • Managing people, processes, and information to develop school-wide plans.

These behaviors reflect the traits effective school leaders possess. More broadly, highly effective principals are skilled in leadership, relationship-building, organization, communication, and goal setting.


A principal’s leadership responsibilities include planning, implementing, supporting, advocating, and monitoring, according to assessments of school leadership. Principals develop their professional community of educators by sharing leadership with teachers and other administrators to ensure that it is a productive atmosphere for learning.

Effective principals also create a congenial environment for education that is characterized by safety, support, and orderliness, according to research about standards and practices for learning-centered leadership.

Overall, principals need to be adept at managing personnel and resources; create a productive, supportive, and inclusive school climate; and facilitate broad-based collaboration.


Principals connect with many people on a daily basis. They often help people express and manage various emotions, ranging from happiness to sadness to anger. This not only requires great communication skills, but emotional intelligence to be able to empathize and relate with other people. 

School leaders must be adept at building relationships and connect with people inside and outside the school. The foundation of these relationships includes respect and trust.

An extensive study found that principals who prioritize relationships with students, teachers, parents, and community members see improvements in academics and fewer disciplinary problems. Furthermore, based on the study, there are some ways principals strengthen relationships with teachers in particular:

  • Recognition—acknowledge teachers individually and often.
  • Visibility—Be present and involved throughout the school, instead of being stuck in the office all day.
  • Caring—Care about faculty and staff and their lives outside of the school.
  • Strength—Show confidence in the face of challenges. Display fairness and consistency.

Goal Setting

Having a vision and a plan to achieve that vision is one of the most important qualities of a principal, according to the Wallace Foundation. Principals can lead by example, establishing clear goals and expectations while holding themselves accountable for their actions. Teachers and students will follow the standards being created by their school leaders—developing a culture of excellence that rewards positive achievements.

Ultimately, principals must ensure their staff and students have the tools, training, and resources they need.

Becoming an Effective Principal

John Carroll University (JCU) offers an Educational Leadership program that prepares working educators for a master’s degree in education (M.Ed.) and to earn their Principal Licensure. This degree program, which can be completed while working full time, provides a broad range of knowledge related to becoming an education leader who can support their staff, students and community at large.

JCU is a private Jesuit university located in University Heights, Ohio, near Cleveland.