An awareness of ethical issues will rank alongside the ability to manage large organisations as part of the range of skills required for the job.
Lifelong Learning UK - the organisation responsible for professional standards in post-16 education - says there is widespread support among principals in FE for an ethical dimension to the job description.
LLUK's new standards for principals have been developed as ministers finalise plans for what is expected to be a compulsory qualification for principals as part of a wider drive to professionalise the FE workforce.
Lecturers, including vocational tutors, must already hold or be working towards a qualification to work in colleges.
Monica Deasy, director of standards, qualifications and research at LLUK, said that if qualifications are to come, they should go beyond the generic responsibilities of chief executives and include a public service ethos.
The fact that colleges are public institutions, she argues, makes the role of the principal broader than that of a chief executive in private industry. "It is really about having a public sector ethos rather than simply running a college like any other business," she said.
"It is about demonstrating the ability to lead institutions in the public sector and to take into account the economic and social wellbeing of the community the college serves.
"It is also about things like valuing equality and diversity. In terms of social cohesion and improving people's life chances, colleges have been at the cutting edge.
"This is a way of recognising what colleges can do. It's not about saying principals should lead a holy life, like priests."
LLUK says the colleges took part in "comprehensive" national consultation over the new standards, which effectively define the job they are required to do as well as areas of competence.
It is anticipated that the requirement for a principal's qualification may be a softer measure than the National Professional Qualification for Headship, for school heads. From 2009, candidates will have to gain this before they can apply for posts.
The NPQH can take up to about 15 months to complete and can be undertaken by anyone with suitable management experience with the permission of their line manager or head.
Ministers are considering allowing new principals to study for the qualification on the job rather than having to qualify before applying.
If this scheme goes through, it remains to be seen how governors will deal with principals who fail to gain the qualification after they have been appointed.
FE Focus understands government advisers have warned ministers that the new qualification should not be allowed to act as a bar to high-calibre chief executives from outside education applying for principals' posts.
With many college principals heading towards retirement, there has been increasing pressure on them to recruit from outside FE and provide fast-track training for second-tier managers.
The Association of Colleges says existing principals, who are unikely to need the qualification, should not be required to take the qualification if they move to another college.
It says the rate of retirement is such that all principals will hold the new qualification in five to 10 years even if it is imposed only on new appointees.
LLUK, which covers FE, universities, workbased learning, adult and community education and libraries, holds its first annual conference in London on December 7, entitled Investing in the lifelong learning workforce.
Its new chairman is David Melville, former chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, which was replaced by the Learning and Skills Council.
The new professionals: page 24