Olens is a Florida native, who was raised in New Jersey. Olens graduated from the Emory University School of Law in 1983. He was elected to the Cobb County Commission in 1998, serving until 2010. He was the commission's chairman from 2002 to 2010. Since 2004, he has served as the chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Olens defeated state senator Preston Smith to win the Republican nomination for attorney general. In the general election, he defeated former Dougherty County District Attorney Ken Hodges.
Alarmed by the sex trafficking statistics in Georgia, Olens joined forces with legislators to advocate for a stronger human trafficking law in Georgia. HB 200 went into effect on July 1, 2011.
Olens worked alongside legislators to pass a re-write of Georgia's Open Meetings and Open Records Laws. HB 397 was the result in the 2012 legislative session, and was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal on April 17, 2012.
Olens delivered a primetime address on national healthcare reform and federal regulatory overreach to the Republican National Convention in Tampa on August 29, 2012.
In January 2013, Olens was named to Georgia Trend magazine's "Most Influential Georgians: Georgia's Power List".
In mid-September 2016, sources close to the University System of Georgia leaked information that Olens might be on a short list to appointment as president of Kennesaw State University, in Kennesaw, Georgia. The university's previous president, Dr. Daniel S. Papp, retired on May 10, 2016, and the University System of Georgia's Chief Academic Officer Dr. Houston Davis was appointed as acting president pending a replacement. Many university staff and student groups objected to the potential appointment, citing Olens' lack of university experience, previous support of Georgia's controversial attempt to ban same-sex marriage, the lack of a national search, and the lack of accountability and transparency in the process through which Sam Olens was chosen. This resulted in multiple campus protests, petitions, and letters from staff to the University System of Georgia administrators.
On October 3, 2016, Hank Huckaby, the Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, sent an open letter to all faculty and students of Kennesaw State University with a confirmation that Olens was indeed being considered for the role of president. On October 4, 2016, Olens participated in an "open interview" before a USG open session of the Board of Regents’ Executive and Compensation Committee, at which time he formally requested the job. Later that afternoon, the USG Chancellor once again notified the Kennesaw State University of the status of Olens' request via email, minutes before a protest, to ask that the university community keep an open mind. Included in the email was a letter from Olens to the Board, in which Olens specifically cited his previous experience as Cobb County Commissioner and his ties to the community. The Board voted on the matter on October 12, 2016 and Olens became Kennesaw State's fourth president under a unanimous vote. His tenure officially began on November 1, 2016.
A formal complaint was filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by several faculty members who believe that discrimination was evident in Olen's appointment, as three women applied to the position but were apparently not considered.