Education is one of the most important sectors within society and key to people being able to build a better life for themselves. The education sector is also one of the biggest industries in terms of employment on a global scale. For example, there are for around 85 million teachers worldwide and an army of support staff, administrative staff and other key education personnel who help the industry function.

Leadership is also crucial for the smooth functioning of education as a sector and the institutions within it. For example, effective leadership in schools ensures required teaching standards are met, pupils are cared for properly and the school itself is run in a sensible way. Due to the importance of leadership, many people already working in education will consider moving into a role like this at some point in their career.

So, what skills and attributes do you need for a successful transition to this kind of job and how can you develop them?

Further education and learning are crucial 

One of the best ways to develop the skills needed to transition into an education leadership job is more academic learning. This will help you not only hone any skills you already have but also develop those you do not yet possess.

Consider a program such as an online master’s degree in education from the University of Exeter. This two-year program has been designed to help experienced educators prepare for leadership roles and get ready for their next professional challenge.

Here are some of the critical attributes needed for success, which your coursework will address and help you develop.

Great communication skills 

When talking about the development of key skills and attributes for success as a leader in education, outstanding communication is a must. The great thing is that communication can be improved with hard work and focused learning. Even if you feel your communication skills are not at the right level yet, you can practice them to improve further.

It is key to note that both verbal and written communication are important. As a leader in education, you must be able to speak with a range of people (from fellow teaching professionals to pupils and parents) and be able to get your message across in the right way.

Written communication is also key for education leaders, who will often have to pass on crucial information via email messages or letters. Key things to bear in mind for effective communication include clearly explaining what you need to say, using the right language and also using the right tone.


As with leaders in other sectors, those who take higher level roles in education need to be assertive and confident in their own abilities. It is key to note that being assertive is not the same as being loud, bossy or rude.

On the contrary, assertiveness is having the confidence to stick to your principles and stand up for what you think is right. It also helps education leaders maintain a sense of authority with staff and be self-assured enough to back their own decisions. Without developing your assertiveness, you may find you are easily swayed by other people and may come across as an ineffective leader overall.

High levels of emotional intelligence 

Of all the top traits education leaders need, emotional intelligence ranks highly. There is just no doubt that successful people in this field understand how to read people and how best to handle different personalities on a team. They can also apply this emotional intelligence to dealing with students and parents in a compassionate manner.

The best education leaders are able to show empathy with whatever situation has arisen and whoever they need to deal with to resolve it. Once you have established open and trusting relationships with those you lead, you will find that they are committed to following you and more motivated to do their best.

Problem-solving is vital 

One of the key skills you’ll need as an education leader is problem-solving. Whatever school, college or university you work in, there is bound to be fresh issues that crop up to solve each day. This can be anything from burst water pipes to challenging student behavior or a budget deficit. The most successful leaders are able to stay calm and find the best ways to solve the problem at hand.

It is important to note that this is not always about taking the quickest possible approach in many cases. The best leaders will actually take time to reflect on the problem where possible, gather evidence and look at a situation from all angles before making a decision. Top educational leaders are also able to think laterally when it comes to solving complex problems and come up with out-of-the-box solutions to move forward.

Organizational and IT skills useful 

In the modern educational world, IT is becoming an increasingly important part of how schools function as well as an integral part of learning itself. It is therefore crucial for leaders to possess decent IT skills and be able to use the most common IT packages/software effectively in their role.

You’ll also need organizational skills to be a successful leader in this sector. Working at higher levels in an education setting will normally mean lots of meetings to attend, lots of guidelines to read, key deadlines to hit and plenty of queries to get through. You must be extremely organized in order to perform your role to your best ability.

Key skills and attributes for top leaders in education 

If you already work as a qualified education professional, you may well be thinking of making the change to a leadership role soon. If this is the case, it is important to know which attributes and skills are needed to make this transition work. With the right preparation and coursework, you’ll be well on your way to succeeding in your new role.