This article contributes to ongoing attempts to identify predictors for creating a functional school culture in South Africa and explores the role of the principal in creating such a culture. A review of the literature reveals a trend towards recognising the importance of a leader in determining the functional culture of an organisation. Much has been written about the importance of culture and school improvement, but relatively little has been explored regarding the ‘primary embedding mechanisms’ and ‘secondary reinforcing mechanisms’ (Schein, 2004) which are essential aspects in the role of the principal in creating a functional school culture. I examine the predictors of a functional school through the theoretical lens of Schein’s theory of organisational culture (2004). Thereafter, we report on a qualitative study in two schools in a rural area, which examined the importance of the role of the principal in culture creation in functional schools.