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School superintendents oversee entire school districts: they manage an entire district’s budget, create policies, interface with other administrators and the public, and support the advancement of schools in their jurisdiction.1

But what makes a good superintendent? In this guide, we’re exploring four key professional traits that separate impactful change-makers from their counterparts. 

If you’re wondering, “What does a superintendent do?”, we’ll cover the superintendent position for future superintendents to prepare their careers in administration with support from an Administrative Services Credential from Alliant International University. 

Understanding the Role of a School Superintendent 

Superintendents have countless opportunities to positively impact the staff, students, and schools in their districts. Their key daily operations include:2

  • District oversight – School superintendents, along with their assistant superintendent, manage every school in their district. They’re the district leader on the organizational chart. When other high-ranking administrators (like district staff) and leaders at individual schools (like principals) need guidance or assistance, they turn to the superintendent.
  • Financial management – Once funds have been allocated to a school district from local, state, and federal sources, superintendents (and their financial support staff) create and manage the district budgets. They dole out funds to schools, programs, and facilities. 
  • Policymaking – Superintendents make and maintain district policies that align with state and federal regulations to promote school and student success.
  • Public face time – As the highest-ranking administrators in a school district, superintendents field comments from parents, students, and community members. 
  • Reporting – Superintendents prepare reports and present them to the state and federal departments that oversee school districts—the California Department of Education, for instance.

In all of these duties, an effective superintendent can harness their potential to improve the day-to-day lives of everyone in their school district: students, instructional staff, support staff, and administrators alike.

Preparing for the Superintendent Role

To become a superintendent in California, prospective administrators must:3

  1. Have an existing clear teaching or support credential in California
  2. Have at least five years of experience working in any California public school district
  3. Receive a clear Administrative Services Credential 

While anyone who meets the first two criteria above can apply for a preliminary Administrative Services Credential, prospective candidates must complete a California-approved professional program to qualify for a clear credential. 

The Administrative Services Credential program at Alliant International University prepares a superintendent candidate and high-level administrator for both the credentialing exam and prosperous careers in school leadership. Plus, it’s a state-approved program—and an excellent route to a public school administration career.

Key Characteristics of a Great Superintendent 

So, what makes a good superintendent? Let’s break down five traits that successful superintendents use to make positive impacts on their entire district.

#1 Strong Communication and Relationship-Building Skills

Nearly every element of the superintendent’s job description requires high-quality communication skills. Superintendents interface with:

  • The public – Students, parents, and community members
  • District staff – Other administrators, instructional staff, and support staff
  • Regulatory bodies – State and federal departments of education and other entities

As they oversee their districts, a successful superintendent must build lasting relationships with people in a variety of roles. Relationship-building and effective communication can help superintendents create and administer policies and improve conditions in their districts.

#2 Visionary Thinking and Problem-Solving

As the highest-ranking policymakers in their districts, superintendents must be prepared to make positive impacts on their communities. But, when faced with common challenges like public pushback, existing regulations (local, state, and federal), and limited funding, these leaders often must think outside the box to create positive change. 

But an excellent superintendent also leverages their professional connections for support. When they need visionary ideas or sounding boards for potential approaches, leaders turn to:

  1. Their professional networks – Superintendents have support from experts in their districts (curriculum and financial professionals, for instance) who can lend their knowledge for impactful, sensible decision-making. 
  2. Oversight personnel – State and federal agencies like departments of education oversee superintendents. When in doubt, superintendents can consult with their superiors for assistance. 

Visionary thinkers know how to use their available support systems to create and maintain positive momentum—the same is true for successful superintendents.

#3 Flexibility in Dynamic Environments

During their terms, superintendents must contend with flux: change is inevitable, and good superintendents know how to manage it.

Superintendents will likely confront:

  • Year-to-year funding changes
  • Staffing adjustments
  • Changing local, state, and federal policies
  • Student population shifts

As these (and other) circumstances change throughout a superintendent’s career, these leaders must be flexible. As the conditions of their district change over time, so too should superintendents’ approaches and solutions.

#4 Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

Perhaps most importantly, superintendents must be able to empathize with a large, diverse constituent group. Superintendents’ policies and activities impact people:

  • Of various ages – From the district’s youngest students to retired staff
  • With wide-ranging backgrounds — From highly educated staff to developing students
  • With different professional experiences – From first-year teachers to seasoned veterans

When they make policies and decisions, superintendents must be able to recognize their impacts on many distinct impacted groups: students, staff, community members, and more. With the emotional intelligence to hear and validate each group’s concerns, superintendents can create solutions that produce positive outcomes for everyone in their district. 

Building Leadership Skills at Alliant International University 

Alliant International University offers a wide variety of education programs for current and prospective educators and administrators—including high-ranking leaders like superintendents. 

Our Administrative Services Credential program is a state-recognized professional development track that will qualify preliminary credential-holders for clear credentialing in California, prepare them to successfully pass the California Administrator Performance Assessment (CalAPA), and help them develop the skills and traits they’ll need for impactful careers in administration.

Learn more about the Administrative Services Credential program and start your educational leadership career on the right path.


  1. “Statutory Functions of County Superintendents of Schools & County Boards of Education.” California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. 2020. Accessed August 21, 2023. 
  2. “Statutory Functions of County Superintendents of Schools & County Boards of Education.” California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. 2020. Accessed August 21, 2023. 
  3. “Administrative Services Credential For Individuals Prepared in California.“ California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. August 18, 2023.…-(cl-574c). Accessed August 21, 2023. 

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