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Unlocking Potential: How Political Skill Can Maximize Superintendent Effectiveness

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What are the characteristics of effective school district superintendents, and how can they best use their power and influence to accomplish their goals? This paper explores what makes a successful superintendent and offers guidance for current and aspiring district leaders as well as those offering superintendent training programs.

Characteristics of Effective Superintendents

Effective school superintendents are those who are able to bargain and build strong coalitions within and outside their school districts. Within the district, they must work successfully with the school board, central office, unions, school leaders, and teachers. Outside the district, they must work well with the mayor and city government, business, higher education, cultural institutions, state officials, and parents. Examples from Camden, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Oakland, and San Diego illustrate effective superintendents’ recent challenges and successes.

How Superintendents Can Cultivate Their Professional Reputations

New superintendents can build their reputations for effectiveness by assembling support over time, creating new allies, building and demonstrating their skills, working strategically with subordinate staff, and communicating consistently. Examples from Newark, New York, and Washington, D.C., show how skillful superintendents develop strong, specific goals and recover from setbacks to achieve big wins.

This paper is a starting point for understanding the full complexity of the superintendent’s job and a resource for those preparing themselves or training others to be effective in the role.

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