Neal Ardley led Notts County to their first league win since the start of October in his first home game in charge as Tranmere Rovers were beaten 3-2 at Meadow Lane.
The new boss saw his side take the lead three times, Stead scoring twice and Kane Hemmings notching the other.
Jonathan Smith and Connor Jennings were the men to twice draw Rovers level but there was to be no third as the Magpies claimed a crucial victory.
Ardley made two changes to the side that faced Mansfield last weekend, Hemmings returning to the starting line-up following an injury lay-off and Keston Davies coming back into the 11. Will Patching and Shaun Brisley were the men to make way.
The Magpies lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Jamie Turley partnering Elliott Ward and Keston Davies shielding the back four.
With Elliott Hewitt on right-back duty, Rob Milsom accompanied David Vaughan in central midfield with Hemmings, Stead and Nathan Thomas offering attacking outlets.
In horrible, wintry conditions Notts claimed the first big chance of the day. It fell to Nathan Thomas, who controlled Hemmings' pass on his chest before sending a left-footed half-volley inches wide from the edge of the area.
Both sides were battling for dominance and Stead found his way into the book for a late lunge on Ritchie Sutton as the Magpies pressed to win the ball in the middle of the park.
But Stead will have been much happier with his involvement shortly afterwards as gave his side the lead in front of the Family Stand.
Hemmings was pivotal once again, showing good awareness in the area to lay the ball off for Dan Jones to roll it across the face of goal for Stead to tap home at the back stick.
The Magpies' joy was short-lived, though, as Rovers' Smith cut in from the right, weaved on to his left foot and scored with a low shot through several bodies in the penalty area.
It looked like the sides were going into the break level after Tranmere keeper Scott Davies made a routine save from Thomas two minutes before the break.
But excellent hassling from Thomas and Stead shortly afterwards saw the latter win the ball inside Tranmere's penalty area, enabling him to pick out Hemmings six yards from goal who made no mistake in restoring his side's lead with a first-time finish.
There were no changes at the break and Notts came close to scoring a third shortly after the restart when Thomas' low, driven cross just evaded Milsom two yards out.
And the visitors' relief turned to delight moments later when Jennings drifted into space in the area to nod home a cross from the right.
Jennings and Ross Fitzsimons both then went into the book as the Rovers forward jostled to take the ball off the keeper to ensure a speedy restart.
Fitzsimons was involved again on 68 minutes, keeping out Smith's effort after Zoumana Bakayogo had drilled in a low cross from the byline.
But Notts' determination to win shone through once more as, inside the game's final quarter of an hour, Thomas' quick feet drew a trip from Mark Ellis in the area. Stead made no mistake from the spot, restoring the Magpies' advantage.
Ardley's first substitution saw Vaughan replaced by Cedric Evina, who went on to the left wing in a 4-4-2 formation.
And the former Doncaster man was joined by Kristian Dennis shortly afterwards, Hemmings making way.
Dennis nearly made an immediate impact, darting on to a ball over the top and firing an effort goalwards from a narrow angle. Davies made an instinctive save to keep his side in the game.
Time was running out for the visitors, however, and Notts looked comfortable defensively going into four minutes of added time.
And Tranmere were unable to break through as the Magpies claimed a big win in the driving December rain.