Along with teachers and fellow administrators, school superintendents are responsible for providing students with a safe, inclusive learning environment, yet their role is often misunderstood. In many ways, superintendents are managers who oversee the day-to-day operations of a school district, but they are also leaders who aspire to improve student achievement. Moreover, superintendents are advocates, confidants, and experts—whatever role their district and students need them to fulfill.  

What Is the Role of a Superintendent? 

Superintendents are often defined by their ability to manage finances, personnel, and resources, but their role has become far more nuanced in recent years. Now, school boards and communities are seeing superintendents as the leaders they are and entrusting them to promote their district’s vision and values.  

Superintendents have, in essence, become the living embodiment of their school districts. Consequently, the role has become increasingly relationship-oriented, with superintendents needing to possess strong communication and interpersonal skills to rally entire communities behind a goal. “Being a superintendent is about building relationships,” said Connecticut’s Superintendent of Schools at Region 12 Patricia Cosentino. “[Y]ou have to make connections with community members, outside organizations. You have to get your parents to buy in, your staff to buy in …” Inspiring others means wearing as many hats as needed to promote a shared vision, and it makes superintendency all the more difficult to define.   

Working With the Board 

Superintendents are elected by school boards: groups of elected or appointed trustees. Together, they share responsibility for a school district. At board meetings, a superintendent will keep the board informed of current events and recommend initiatives. Although a superintendent’s recommendations carry substantial weight, it’s ultimately up to the board whether a mandate is approved. Once approved, it falls to the superintendent to see a mandate carried out, so long as they adhere to the framework of policies adopted by the board.  


Building Relationships in the Community 

A survey of superintendents, all of whom had been named superintendent of the year, revealed that while leadership, vision, and strategic thinking were the most important skills for superintendent success, every superintendent identified communication as an integral component of each of those skills. Community members, including parents, politicians, and business owners, are highly invested in the success of their district and bring divergent perspectives to the table. Many have or will have their own children in the schools. People care because they appreciate that quality education is one of the foundations of a strong community. Add the transparency and media scrutiny that’s a given in any publicly funded endeavor and it’s easy to see why a superintendent needs to be a multitalented, consummate leader who will identify key avenues for collaborating with every encounter, building and promoting a community-wide shared vision with every handshake.  


A superintendent is considered the primary instructional leader for a school district, but their work is inherently intertwined with and dependent on the work of principals, teachers, and support staff. Responsible for hiring and firing teachers and administrators, superintendents must surround themselves with capable professionals while communicating expectations, investing in professional development, and providing the resources they need to perform their roles effectively. Sharing leadership and fostering a culture of respect is essential if superintendents are to provide students with the best possible education.  


Overseeing Day-to-Day Operations 

Although superintendents are prized for their leadership skills, they must lean on their managerial abilities when allocating time, money, personnel, and resources. Coordinating short- and long-term goals means taking a system-wide approach, one that accounts for education policies and student achievement. One of the more challenging aspects of being a superintendent is having to make hard decisions, such as cutting staff, when faced with conflicting goals. Providing sound guidance in district budgeting and operations while helping a school district realize its vision is no easy feat, but effective superintendents find a way to make it happen.  

No Two Days Are Alike 

Administrators who step into the role of superintendent are rewarded with a career unlike any other, where no two days are alike. They could be touching base with board members and visiting classrooms one day and making an appearance at a school sporting event the next. Unlike a typical 9-5 job, superintendency requires professionals to be much more frequently accessible, and at a moment’s notice. Still, for many administrators, the chance to create systemic change and increase their earning potential as a superintendent is too good to pass up.  

Earn Your Superintendent Certification Through UT Permian Basin 

Assistant principals and principals interested in becoming district leaders can enroll in The University of Texas Permian Basin’s online Superintendent Certification program. Throughout our online courses, students develop essential leadership and managerial skills while working toward meeting Texas’ certification requirements. As one of the only four-course programs in the state that maintains a practicum experience throughout, our program also pairs students with a mentor who’ll ensure they’re ready to take on the role of district leader. At UT Permian Basin, we offer the convenience of online learning and the practicality of hands-on experience in a single program designed exclusively for aspiring superintendents.  

Ready to pursue the role of a lifetime? Apply to our online Superintendent Certification program to become an advocate for every student, teacher, and administrator in your school district.