This paper reports upon findings from four multiple-perspective case studies of successful principals in challenging urban contexts. Each principal was described as making a significant difference to the quality of school education. The analysis of the cases identified that there were several interconnected strategies that are not only important, but essential for leadership success in these schools. They are related to setting the directions, developing people, redesigning the organisation and changing the culture of the school. Each of them encompasses more specific competencies, attitudes and considerations.