5 Characteristics of Strong School Leaders

Chad OstrowskiBlog, Lead Better


In This Post:

  • The 5 qualities successful most school leaders have.
  • Ideas on how to become a more successful leader in your school – no matter your position!

Being a school leader is about more than a title or position. It’s about imparting change and leading the vision of a school, class, or department. And it’s not always easy. In working with schools, districts, and teachers across the country, I’ve noticed that there are certain characteristics all successful school leaders seem to have. Here are 5 of them.

1. Their Title Doesn’t Matter.

This seems a bit counterintuitive, but a leader’s title is probably the least important part of their job or their success. I’ve seen amazing school leaders without titles and awful leaders with the highest title possible.

Leadership comes down to actions, listening, and earning the respect of those you are leading. This can be done from any position, including a classroom teacher, department leader or, yes, an administrator.

A good school leader tends to be a jack of all trades. While they have their roles and responsibilities, successful ones also take responsibility for the overall wellbeing of a school. That’s why the most successful leaders I see aren’t just being “administrative” in their daily roles. They support and help their staff daily, too.

I recently saw an administrator vacuuming. This wasn’t because it was their job, but because it needed done and the other staff were busy. True leaders do what’s needed, not just what’s described in their job title.

Leadership comes down to actions, listening, and earning the respect of those you are leading. Click To Tweet

2. School Leaders Listen.

The most successful leaders, regardless of the level, do a lot of listening. They listen to their colleagues, the staff, and the support staff so they can best serve their department or the greater mission of the school.

When we work with schools, I often have to remind leaders that telling an entire staff to do something is rarely effective. In fact, the best leaders often beat me to it. They suggest a slow rollout or small introduction to gauge staff interest before anything else.

This means they are asking for input from those “in the trenches” and basing decisions on whether it will be successful from this vantage point. This is how to increase buy-in and success of any idea, mission, or initiative. Just listen.

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3. Leaders focus on work over time.

This may sound weird, but the best leaders are more concerned about things getting done and less concerned about how long it takes for them to happen.

I had a leader who displayed this simply by saying: When your work is done you can leave. If it’s not done you might stay late, but if it is…why would I keep you here?

When you trust your staff to be professional and finish what’s needed to be done, the time it takes for them to do it becomes less important. The idea of staying until 3:15pm because a schedule says so doesn’t matter if you’re wasting the time of those people who have completed their work efficiently.

I fully realize that this can be complicated by agreements, contracts, and other political pieces of the educational system. But by simply respecting people’s time, we can go a long way as educational leaders.

4. Leaders Trust Their Staff.

This can be harder than it sounds. The best leaders, just like the best teachers, trust that their staff have the organization’s best interests in mind.

Even when it’s not apparent, it is important to assume that staff always want what’s best for a school or classroom. Sometimes, the way they are trying to make this happen is different than a laid out vision you have provided as a leader.

It is this disagreement that can lead to negative effects if the premise of a common goal isn’t at the foundation of the discussion.

5. School Leaders Get Out of Their Office.

The most successful teachers, administrators, or district leaders I have worked with all spend a lot of time outside of their office.

This isn’t always easy, but making time for it is important. Regardless of your goals or mission, if you aren’t seeing “the work” on a daily basis, it’s hard to impart change or growth. Being visible and better understanding how things are going is paramount to how you lead any group.


Regardless of your role or position, we can all be educational leaders. Whether it’s students or staff, you are probably a leader to someone right now.

Are you leading with purpose and in a way that’s conducive to success? Which one of these 5 characteristics is your strongest? Which one is your weakest?

Maybe #6 should have been they’re always improving.

About Chad Ostrowski

Chad Ostrowski is the co-founder of the Teach Better Team and the creator of The Grid Method, but he is a middle school science teacher at heart. He now travels the country sharing his story, working with teachers, schools, and districts to help them to reach more students.