A national campaign to recruit more headteachers should be launched to challenge negative perceptions about the role, according to the teaching watchdog.
In its new position paper, Leadership, Including Headship, the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) says the role of headteacher is changing, with society asking more of school leaders than ever before.
The paper says that, as applications for headships fall, the Assembly government and headteachers themselves must take action to address the issue.
"Professional and government responses need to challenge the perception that the headteacher's job is all about `bells, buildings, budgets and buses' and rather focus on the impact that their leadership has on learning and pupils' futures," it says.
It adds that heads can play their part by focusing more on the positive and rewarding aspects of the role, such as the impact on pupils' life chances.
The paper also calls for more formal support for serving headteachers - for example, a programme of structured professional development and career-long mentoring by more experienced heads.
It says the best leadership talent should be nurtured throughout a teacher's career, including after appointment to headship, and that the present ad hoc support arrangements must improve.
Serving heads have reported that such schemes have been beneficial and have allowed time to reflect on their own performance and development.
The GTCW hopes that the paper, published in response to the Assembly government's 2009 research into headship, will start a conversation between heads, teachers, governors and other stakeholders about the future of school leadership.
Gareth Jones, secretary of heads' union ASCL Cymru, welcomed the paper, saying it will add to the ongoing debate about school leadership at all levels.
He suggested that potential school leaders could be given a wider perspective of the education system through year-long secondments with local authorities, the Assembly government or Welsh inspectorate Estyn.
"The role of a headteacher has changed dramatically over the last 30 years," Mr Jones said. "Heads have to be aware of what is happening outside of their school as well as within."
In a landmark speech earlier this month, education minister Leighton Andrews said that many of the problems in Wales's education system were down to a "failure of leadership" at all levels, and that effective school leadership makes a marked difference to classroom standards.
He also announced that the government would be changing the performance management provisions for headteachers to enable closer monitoring of their approach to raising standards.
The GTCW is sending its paper to the government for consideration.
- Original headline: Headship isn't just about `bells, budgets and buses'