Why SPED Directors Need Interpersonal Skills

What is the single most important factor in determining a SPED Director’s success? Without a doubt, it is the honing of interpersonal skills. SPED Directors with strong interpersonal skills know how to communicate with and motivate those around them — so essential to leadership and ensuring the effectiveness of the entire staff.

Perhaps even more important is understanding the secrets of working well with others, and building solid relationships. What’s more, well-developed interpersonal skills give SPED Directors an edge in solving problems and making good decisions.

But which Interpersonal Skills should a SPED Director focus on?

The 5 Crucial Interpersonal Skills

1. Trust

Building trust is a long-term strategy that necessitates continued work over time. These are some highly effective ways to facilitate that.

Keep Those Promises

If you want to ensure that your teachers and therapists will be running for the exits, just keep giving them assurances without proper follow-through. It is critical to give your team the confidence that you will be there to do whatever you can to help them to be successful. Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk!

Give Them Space

Don’t micromanage. You need to give your teachers and therapists the space to do their jobs. If there is a problem that can be solved by staff, don’t step in to save the day. And if they need help, offer them guidance to help them build their problem-solving skills rather than solving the problems for them.

Support Reasonable Risks

When teachers or therapists want to challenge themselves by innovating something in the curriculum or their therapy session, if it doesn’t violate some core value or protocol, help them take those next steps. This demonstrates your belief in their abilities and ideas.

Explain Your Rationale

Don’t just announce your decision and justify it by saying that you are entitled to make it because of your position. Explain your reasoning and the data that led you there. Keeping your decision-making process secretive undermines trust and gives you the appearance of being arbitrary and authoritarian. Be transparent.

Lead with Integrity

Besides truthfulness and honesty, you need to stand by a set of strong values, which means that, where relevant, your decisions need to reflect your ethical self. A SPED Director who leads with integrity not only encourages truthfulness and fairness but also positions herself as a positive role model.

2. Feedback

Of the most valuable benefits of interpersonal skills is the nuanced ability to provide useful, welcome feedback. Not only do you need to be straight with your teachers and therapists, but they want to hear feedback from you as well. That being said, there is no reason that this should be unnecessarily harsh.

Unfortunately, many think that the best way to give constructive feedback is by being “brutally honest.” But that runs the risk of causing people to shut down instead of being motivated to improve. Successful SPED Directors deliver their criticism in a way that simultaneously conveys to their teachers and therapists genuine interest in their work and concern for their welfare.

Rude doesn’t equal honest, and empathetic doesn’t mean watered-down. […] It’s possible, and more effective, to deliver that criticism respectfully and factually,” says Dave Feldman, VP of Product Design at Heap, an analytics automation company.

3. Motivation

Interpersonal skills can be a catalyst in encouraging teachers and therapists to constantly improve; however, this is contingent upon the art of knowing how to motivate people.

Motivating teachers and therapists is a finely tuned skill that stems from a deep awareness of your emotions and your staff members’ emotions, coupled with the ability to craft inspiring messages with clarity and power.

4. Acknowledgment

Knowing when and how to acknowledge a teacher’s or therapist’s accomplishment and how to give praise is essential and involves more than just a shout-out of “great job!” at a staff meeting.

Sincere acknowledgment of an individual’s contributions begins with keeping tabs on your teacher’s or therapist’s work. While you don’t need to track every waking minute, an effective leader has a very keen sense of how the staff member is doing. This can come anywhere from 1:1 meetings to assessments obtained through project management software.

When it comes time to assure that your teachers and therapists feel seen and appreciated for their work, you need to consider something else as well. That is to know who prefers to be praised privately and who prefers it to be public. Knowing their preferences is essential and ensures that they don’t feel uncomfortable.

5. Communication

Without effective communication skills, a SPED Director lacks perhaps the most critical component needed to properly interact with teachers and therapists, and will incessantly struggle to provide dynamic leadership of the Special Education Department.

Active Listening

Your teachers and therapists need to know that you are listening, that you understand their points of view, and that you will implement worthwhile suggestions. Active listening requires that you give the individual your complete attention, respond to verbal and non-verbal cues, and invest the time and effort to appreciate his perspective.

Building Rapport

A vital skill of a successful SPED Director is the ability to build and cultivate solid interpersonal relationships through effective communication. Building rapport with teachers and therapists creates a positive and safe working environment and lays a healthy foundation for future interactions.


Clear communication is effective communication. It is important to strive for an economy of words when you communicate. Getting the message across without being fancy or verbose will save a lot of confusion, and make your staff eager to hear what you have to say.

Resolving Conflicts

It is all but impossible to avoid conflict when your job entails working with people. While the existence of the conflict isn’t under your control, how you deal with that conflict is. Sometimes it’s about the words you choose, while other times it’s not about the words, but rather depends on the tone or the communication style that you choose.

It’s Not Really a Choice

As a SPED Director, striving to be excellent isn’t a choice. And becoming excellent has everything to do with your honed interpersonal skills. But the good news is that, even if you don’t come by some of these skills naturally, they can be developed. And as you grow in them, so too will your effectiveness and those around you as well!