What Are Leadership Skills in Education?

Written by Scott Wilson

What are leadership skills in education? Leadership skills in education involve communication, negotiation, analysis, and planning. Like leaders in any field, education leaders rely on their abilities to see the big picture, allocate resources effectively, and motivate students and staff to accomplish great things.

confident leader

Leadership makes a big difference in schools. Studies have found that strong educational leadership has as much as a quarter of the total influence that the education system has over student achievement.

As that evidence has piled up, school districts haven’t been slow to respond. A new emphasis on training everyone from senior teachers to district superintendents in advanced leadership skills is widespread in the academic world.

But there are a lot of questions about what exactly leadership skills are. How can you learn them, and how do they apply in the field of education?

Unsurprisingly, the answers are all found in educational leadership degrees. Graduate studies in educational leadership both review the kinds of skills and traits used by leaders, and teach you how to develop them yourself.

Educational Leaders Apply Traditional Skills in the Academic Environment

There’s nothing unique about the skills that educational leaders make use of. It’s a similar toolset to the one that any Fortune 500 CEO uses, that military officers tap into, that government leaders rely on. Academic researchers have made great strides in identifying key leadership traits over the past 80 years. Where leadership was once a mysterious and unteachable quality, it has now become a science.

It requires a skillset that is complementary and self-reinforcing. In general, leaders develop the ability to:

These skills either develop or cultivate a series of traits that are common to great educational leaders:

You can see how traits and skills come together: compassion and insight, for example, are important in developing interpersonal connections. And coming up with a vision is only effective after you master skills in data analysis.

How Leadership Skills Are Applied in the Field of Education

If leadership skills are general purpose, the applications of those skills in education can still be unique. Like other industries or fields, education poses its own set of challenges for leaders.

So conventional leadership skills in educational administration roles are put to their own uses. Those include:

Developing Equity and Social Justice

School leaders are responsible for providing an equitable education to all. That requires an exceptional level of cultural knowledge and communication skills.

Balancing Community Standards and Educational Best Practices

Schools are governed by school boards, and therefore by the community itself. In the United States, that’s increasingly causing conflicts between the latest knowledge and evidence in education and community standards. Skills in negotiation, compromise, and communication get an extra workout for school district superintendents.

Building Collaborative Learning Environments

Planning and executing those plans in school environments requires collaboration… between students, teachers, specialists, and the community at large. Educational leaders need exceptional communication and coordination skills to make it all work.

Connecting With and Motivating Students

Principals and specialist leaders face a special challenge that most other leaders never do. Part of their role includes leading and motivating a set of individuals who don’t work for them and don’t even want to be in school in the first place: students themselves. Few leaders have to reach out to and connect with the same range of demographic groups as educational leaders. That puts a real premium on empathy and cultural sensitivity.

Earning the Right Degree to Develop Your Leadership Skills in Education

Leadership skills can be taught like any other skill. And unsurprisingly, there are many specialized degree programs that exist to teach both those skills and how they are routinely applied in the world of education.

The licensing requirements for most school administration jobs today include earning a relevant graduate degree.

Degree programs in educational leadership, like an Educational Specialist Degree in Educational Administration, deliver in-depth training in leadership skills and show you how they are used in the school context.

Doctoral and master’s programs covering any kind of specialty, from early childhood education to library science, routinely bake in leadership skills and foundations today.

You’ll learn the various theories of educational leadership. Placements in schools help show you how those theories work in the real world. And you’ll get a chance to try out and polish your own leadership abilities under careful supervision before graduating.

Like any kind of skill development, educational leadership skills take both time and training to hone. But it’s a skillset worth mastering if your goals include the top jobs in education administration today.

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