This article considers the professional work, identity and recruitment of head teachers (HTs) in Wales. Drawing on the sociology of professions, the article illustrates how intensive educational policy reform post‐2011 has restricted HTs’ professional agency and re‐orientated the head teacher role towards organisational professionalism. Drawing on semi‐structured interviews (n=30) with both head and deputy head teachers, the article argues that issues with the recruitment and retention of HTs in Wales can, in part, be explained by the promotion of managerial and technicist approaches to professional practice. This role reconfiguration is the result of myriad and, at times, overlapping accountability mechanisms. The article illustrates how these changes to HT professional roles and identity are more intense within a small education system where HTs had, traditionally, enjoyed an elite professional status. To ameliorate these issues, the article proposes policy initiatives which the Welsh Government could introduce to foster the agency of HTs within a revised professional framework for educational leadership in Wales.