Organizational Leadership

Head Start Site Leader

Deborah Bergeron

"An efficient and effective leader is someone who listens and responds to the needs of their team. It is a person who is not afraid to challenge the status quo and who constantly strives to innovate and improve. This kind of leader is grounded in the principles of servant leadership, and supports the growth and wellness of all children, families, and staff in their care. To achieve our true potential, I believe every Head Start and Early Head Start site should have a site leader with these qualities leading the way."

Dr. Deborah Bergeron, director of the Office of Head Start

What Is a Site Leader?

The Head Start or Early Head Start site leader is a visionary leader with oversight responsibility for creating a culture of innovation, collaboration, and inclusion at their site. Acting as a change agent, they set the tone and empower staff to take ownership of service delivery.

The site leader may also be referred to as the center director or leader or as site supervisor or site director. Whatever their title, these individuals have an understanding of how to make the most of their staff's expertise. They provide effective modeling and leadership. They work collaboratively with education managers, other managers, and staff to ensure effective operational and instructional practices. The site leader also coordinates with family service staff to ensure the empowerment and inclusion of all families enrolled at the site.

Site leaders support the program's overall mission by fostering the creation of high-quality, responsive, respectful, and safe work environments. They ensure compliance with the Head Start Program Performance Standards and other applicable federal and state requirements. Ideally, the site leader is physically present at the site most days of the week.

"Having a site leader that understands how to support teachers is one of the most important roles in early education. The well-known psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner said, 'Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.' Well, every teacher needs this, too—to go to work and feel like someone thinks they are an amazing teacher. And then they can do great things with the kids. I'm that person for the teachers at my center." Michelle Broniak, center leader for Starfish Family Services Inc.

Infographic of Who Are Site Leaders with a text only version available at the following link:

Key Competencies

  • Practices the principles and ideas of the following leadership styles:
    • Servant leadership: Looks to see what they can do to serve the people whose behavior they hope to change; treats others as they want to be treated
    • Distributed leadership: Shares power with others and provides opportunities for others to operate in leadership roles
    • Visionary leadership: Promotes innovation and risk-taking
    • Empathetic leadership:
      • Builds awareness of protective factors
      • Trauma-informed
      • Mindful
      • Emphasizes positives
      • Acknowledges work
      • Clarifies expectations
      • Encourages vacations and time-off
    • Adaptive leadership: Inspires and motivates people to tackle tough challenges and thrive
  • Strong communication, coordination, and collaboration skills, both on-site and within the community
  • Ability to leverage expertise of others as needed to implement the strategic vision and maintain compliance
  • Strong decision-making, problem-solving, critical thinking, and conflict management skills
  • Knowledgeable about Head Start requirements, program operations, and Human Resources
  • Some knowledge of child development, including infant and toddler development if appropriate
  • Practiced at supervising and building teams to create an inclusive work environment

Learn More About Site Leaders

  • Postponed: Office of Head Start 2020 Site Leader Institute