What Personal Characteristics Define an Excellent Administrator?

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Administrators don’t get much credit, but they are essential for a high-functioning school. Principals and assistant principals are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the school while also working as liaisons with the superintendent and district leaders. Other admins, ranging from the front office staff to finance and HR professionals, complete countless tasks each day in what is often a thankless job. But what personal characteristics define an excellent administrator, and is this the right job for you? Keep reading to find out.



Image credit: World Economic Forum


1. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify emotions – both in yourself and others. An emotionally intelligent person can identify when they feel angry, sad, or jealous and consider the root causes of these emotions. They can also understand how their actions might affect someone else. 

EI is incredibly hard to teach because it requires people to understand emotions and pick up on the social cues of others. This is why it is one of the most sought-after traits in administrators. 

Studies have found that high emotional intelligence is a better indicator of success in the workplace than high IQ. This is because the modern work environment requires high levels of collaboration and communication – especially in a school setting. By practicing empathy, self-awareness, and other social skills, you can develop your emotional IQ. 


2. Problem Solving

Schools are tiny cities with hundreds of students, teachers, and admins all doing their best throughout the day. However, problems arise, which means quality administrators need to be ready to implement solutions. 

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for rapid thinking and problem solving for admins. Education leaders jumped in during the switch to online schooling, ensuring students had access to the internet, meals, and course materials. 

There are a few ways to strengthen your problem-solving skills. You can build your creativity and critical thinking muscles in ways that help you reach solutions.

  • Map out the issues you face. Visualizing the problem may help you better understand your options. 
  • List all possible solutions. Even if a few solutions are absurd, getting creative can help you come up with the right one. 
  • Bounce ideas off of others. They might be able to see the pros and cons of certain plans that you miss. Plus, you can see how other people think through issues. 
  • Identify the root causes of the issues. This can help you solve the problem now while also planning to prevent it in the future.  

Try these strategies on smaller problems so you feel ready when a larger issue arises in the school. 


3. Listening

Listening is often one of the most underrated skills because it is often confused with hearing. You might hear someone talking and get the gist of what they are saying, but are you really listening? Studies show that 96 percent of people think they are good listeners, but most people only retain about half of the information they are told. Listening takes multiple forms and is a skill you can develop over time: 

  • Stop making assuming about what the other person might say. This can cause you to miss information or assume a statement is unimportant. 
  • Ask questions about what you are hearing. This provides clarity and reinforces the message. 
  • Actively listen and show that you are paying attention to the speaker. Nodding, making eye contact, and reacting to statements are all parts of active listening. 
  • Try to pick up on body language, tone, and unspoken meanings. These can provide context clues about what the speaker means versus what they are actually saying. 

Not everyone can pick up on sentence meanings through changes in tone or sarcasm. However, almost everyone can practice giving their undivided attention to a speaker and actively listening to what they are trying to say. 


4. Embracing Change

Changes will provide emotional challenges for almost everyone throughout their lives. Even positive changes, like moving to a new house or starting a better job, can be stressful and scary. Logically, you know that these changes are good for you, but the whole process can be overwhelming. 

“As much as we value our rational and logical brain, it was the last part of our brain to evolve,” says Dr. Lauren Florko, a psychologist specializing in workplace stress. “Our emotional part of the brain (the amygdala) has been around much longer and is more fine-tuned to what’s going on. So if we need to get through change, we need to emotionally get through because logic isn’t enough.” 

Embracing change will help you become a better problem solver and can guide you to keep a level head under pressure. Unfortunately, this is a characteristic that is hard to hone. Start by identifying small changes and understanding how they don’t have to ruin your day. What emotions come with these changes? How do you react to them? This can help you become more aware of how changes affect you. 


5. Persuasion

Many of the top personal characteristics of administrators focus on reacting to others. However, it is also important to influence the people you work with. What good is problem-solving if you can’t convince other people to adopt your solutions? Why should you embrace change if you can’t rally your team to take on the new plan as well? 

Persuasion is a key part of management and leadership. Too often, managers try to persuade by force, fear, or micromanaging – creating toxic work and school environments. Other administrators operate on the other end of the scale. They lack persuasion and often don’t feel heard or respected. 

Persuasion takes a mixture of logical and emotional tools to win people over. Admins need to make strong cases for their decisions, show empathy for how changes will affect others, and instill hope that the future will be better because of their ideas. Presenting information in this manner takes practice and experience, which you will likely hone throughout your career. 


You are Never Too Old or Too Young to Hone Soft Skills

As you learn what personal characteristics define an excellent administrator, you may notice that many of the items listed here are soft skills. These are skills that are hard to teach or grow. While learning to ride a bike comes with clear instructions and milestones to prove your success, it is hard to measure whether someone has empathy or critical thinking. 

You can hone some of these traits to become a better administrator – and you can help the next generation develop their own soft skills by providing the best resources available.

Learn more about piloting eSpark in your school and how we help administrators turn students into healthy adults. 

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