7 Hats Principals Must Be Prepared to Wear

Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of teachers who are interested in becoming school principals.
My task was to summarize some of the principal’s roles and responsibilities.

If you are a principal, I am sure you could add more to my list. If you are thinking of becoming a principal, here are seven hats I believe you should expect to wear:

1. Coach
Someone has to make the final call, and as the principal, that will often be you. Like a good coach, you will need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team. You will need to listen to input from others. But ultimately, you will be the one who often makes many of the final calls in your building.

Coaches also set the tone, cast the vision, or help motivate their teams to action. Even if you are not a pep-talk kind of person, it is important that you are clear with direction, consistent with follow-through, and fair-minded in difficulties. Like it or not, others will look to you for direction and follow your lead. So plan to lead in a positive direction.

2. Manager
School leadership is much more than management, but it is still an important part of it.

Some principals are surprised at the amount of work required for supervision, personnel decisions, report generating, budget decisions, and schedule planning. If you are transitioning from the classroom, you are now responsible for an entire school.

You can’t manage a school without a great team.

One way I have tried to encourage focus in office management of our school, for instance, is by putting job responsibilities in writing. Each office staff member has key responsibility areas in writing so each of us know who is managing specific tasks throughout the year.

3. Counselor
Whether it is handling concerns of students, parents, teachers, or other school staff, a significant part of school leadership is learning to listen. I am not a counselor and do not pretend to be. But I have learned the importance of giving my attention to someone in need, providing them feedback, and helping them find solutions.

Sometimes people just need to be heard, and sometimes they need to be guided into finding their own solutions. My favorite Stephen Covey quote always comes into play when I talk about counseling: Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood.

4. On Duty
Like it or not, everyone is accountable to someone. Just because you are a principal does not mean you are on your own. You still answer to your superiors. You still answer to the state department. You still follow the same rules, regulations, policies, and laws your staff is expected to follow.

When you are absent for family sick leave, for instance, you fill out the same form your teachers fill out. I sign in every morning on the same sheet my teachers use for sign in. In fact, I am usually the first one to sign in. Principals are on duty just like everyone else.

5. Chief Communicator
I am not sure I can emphasize enough the importance of keeping people informed. So often because you are on the front end of decisions or information coming to the school, you falsely assume others have the same information or context.

Here are a few ways I try to keep communication clear:
a. Be present and visible.
b. Follow up meetings with email summaries.
c. Email parents and teachers in group emails with school updates.
d. When someone is upset, call or see in person if possible.
e. Send photos and updates to your local media outlets.
f. Create a school newsletter so great events are published to a wider audience.
(See a previous post I made for 10 Ways To Communicate About Your School.)

6. Servant-Leader
One aspect I appreciate about my current superintendent is his ability to roll up his sleeves and lend a hand. More than once, he has been seen helping out with grounds work, standing in the serving line at faculty meals, or organizing a tailgate party on game night.

Principals are not exempt from service. In fact, they should be on the front-line when it comes to helping others. This doesn’t mean you neglect the tasks of management, supervision, and meetings to do all maintenance tasks in your building. Instead, it means that at times, you will need to step in when there is a need and lend a hand.

More than once, I have cleaned up the spill in the commons. Working a mop is something I can still do while wearing a tie.

7. Team Player
Finally, a principal must remember he is not working alone. You are surrounded by teachers, students, or staff members who are talented, intelligent and creative. And you always accomplish more when pulling with a team than by yourself.

So you must not forget that you need others to be successful. And other need you too. Strong leaders do not push others. Instead, they lead and are followed.

As you set the tone for your building, remember you are doing this in partnership with others. Reminding yourself that you are part of team will keep you from the false belief that you are on your own. I heard someone say once concerning leaders: Tuck in your cape, you are not a super hero; you are on a team.

School leadership is a multifaceted calling whether you are a coaching, managing, staying accountable, communicating, serving, or working with a team. Ultimately, your goal is to create a safe and effective learning environment, no matter what hats you have to wear to reach that goal.

Now It’s Your Turn
My list is based on my own experience but it is not exhaustive. What are some other roles or responsibilities school leaders must be prepared to handle? Share with rest of us!

Copyright 2013 by William D. Parker, Connect through Twitter with handle @williamdp or at www.williamdparker.com

Posted originally at WilliamDParker.com


  1. I think an important hat a principal has to wear is the lead learner of the organization. We have a wealth of research and best practice that will improve student learning and we must be up on the most current information and study with the staff.

    December 20, 2013
  2. That’s a great point Brian. Thanks for adding another the hat to the list.

    December 21, 2013
  3. Great article. As Brian Hoelscher indicated, that 8th hat is “lead learner.” I too would like to add another hat….the most essential of them all – Instructional Leader. This is hat number one. The principal is and must be the instructional leader of the school. He/she must also be the Informational Leader AND the Inspirational Leader. So many hats to wear, but again, I loved the article.

    December 21, 2013
  4. Daniela Small-Bailey said:

    Yet another hat is that of Role Model not only to the students, but also to the staff members. How we react as school leaders, how we treat each other, how we dress, how we handle ourselves under pressure, and how we intervene on observations made on walk-through, or observations, speaks volume to those who are watching us. One may say that the “Role Model” piece is understood, however, I think it is quite important to highlight the impact we have on the lives of the community we lead.

    December 21, 2013
  5. I’m loving this growing list! Thanks Baruti and Daniela!

    December 22, 2013
  6. Ron Krause said:

    I believe we all wear the hat of the “Energizer Bunny.” Our staff, students and community draw their strength to move forward from our passion, our dedication, our determination…our leadership!

    December 22, 2013
  7. Ava Fullenweider said:

    As a recent retired Principal I think you nailed it head on, even with the added hats. This job however requires you to keep yourself heathly and full of energy. Eating healthy is a great intervention for good health. Get regular checkup and try to encourage your staff to do the same. Now, with that out the way you must have true dedication and a real vision for the school that you are about to lead. Your staff, students,parents and community must know that you mean business about the students in your school. You also must make a connection with the community. Know the changes of the community, also the culture and the ethnic makeup of the school community.
    Good article!

    December 22, 2013
  8. Don Davis said:

    Great list and good additions…another role “#1 Cheerleader” for your school.

    December 23, 2013
  9. Thanks Ron, Ava, and Don for the added suggestions to the list!

    December 26, 2013
  10. Barb Ihnen said:

    This is a great article and hits the nail on the head. There are so many hats to wear. Determining which one to wear when is critical to being an effective leader.

    December 28, 2013
  11. […] “From being a coach to a counselor, school principals must wear many hats to lead effectively, William Parker, principal of Skiatook High School near Tulsa, Okla., writes in this blog post. He outlines a number of different roles principals must play, including being a manager and a good communicator, as well as a team player. “Ultimately, your goal is to create a safe and effective learning environment, no matter what hats you have to wear to reach that goal,” Parker writes.” http://connectedp.wpengine.com/archives/9870 […]

    December 29, 2013
  12. Stephanie Vetere said:

    I agree with the article and completely agree with everything a Principal is responsible for doing for the students, staff and community!

    October 29, 2014
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