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Student Leadership Competencies

What makes a good student leader?

Leadership is often referred to as a “soft skill.” However, young people preparing for their future should not make the mistake of assuming that “soft” or “non-technical” means something lesser or something that cannot be learned. In fact, leadership is a critical skill for both personal and professional success, and learning to be a good leader can start in school. A good student leader is able to identify their interests, strengths and weaknesses and start applying those to the opportunities offered in college, high school or even earlier.

Student Leadership Qualities

Student leaders need to develop self-confidence, which underpins other important qualities, including humility, authenticity and assertiveness. These student leadership qualities make it possible for them to hone the skills necessary to develop core leadership competencies. Working with mentors and taking on key roles in student organizations are two ways students can develop these qualities.


Self-confidence is one of the most important qualities that a leader can possess. A self-confident leader does not need to constantly demonstrate that quality to others. Instead, they can use that confidence to take on challenges, and they can also boost confidence in others.


With self-confidence comes humility because people who are confident are not afraid of sharing credit with others. Leadership is not just about putting oneself first but about making the entire team look good, and it takes humility to do this.


Confident people are also comfortable in who they are. This makes them authentic, and others respond to authenticity, knowing this is someone that they can trust.


As student leaders develop their confidence, they will also learn how to be more assertive. Assertiveness means they know how to talk about problems or issues they are having and share opinions in a straightforward manner without tipping over into aggressiveness. Others enjoy working with assertive people because they feel as though they know where they stand.

Leadership skills for students

Student leaders need to learn critical skills as well. These practical skills will help them achieve their aims and bring others along with them in their success.

Time management

Time management can be complex, but being a student offers an excellent environment in which to experiment with different methods and find the one that works best. Students may find an app, a calendar or a simple to-do list is the best way to keep up with and prioritize tasks. They will also learn how to build in time to deal with contingencies without wasting time.


Leadership accountability means taking the ultimate responsibility for a project or team’s successes and shortcomings. While it is important to help team members learn accountability themselves, ultimately, leaders set a good example when they shoulder the bulk of this burden.


Goal setting is all about creating aims that are concrete, specific and measurable. For example, for a student body president, “improve the school” as a goal is vague and ineffective. A goal to create a specific program that involves the community and a certain percentage of the student body by the end of the school year is more concrete and has measurable parameters and a deadline.

Advocating for or defending a cause

Intelligence and leadership will go hand in hand when a student leader feels called on to defend a difficult position. Having evidence to support any claims and speaking eloquently about a cause can help others understand why the decision was made.


Communication is not just about good speaking or writing skills. Today’s leaders need to be savvy across platforms, including video and social media. Ultimately, communication is about persuasion, and working on student issues can help leaders develop these skills.


In an accountability leadership model, the ultimate responsibility for decision-making falls on the leader, but it is best to consult others along the way. Student leaders must learn to make decisions based on the big picture but should also be able to pivot if they get new information or a situation changes.


Few skills are as important to a leader’s success as the ability to create and maintain relationships with others. Relationships are at the heart of networking, and the connections that students make in high school or college may stay with them throughout their lives.

Classroom projects, campus organizations and one-on-one development opportunities with teachers, professors and mentors are all ways that students can start to build their leadership qualities and skills to ensure a rewarding and successful life.