Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Moving from Administrivia Overload to Leadership Competency Development

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Moving from Administrivia Overload to Leadership Competency Development

Article excerpt

FOR YEARS, VIRGINIA TECH TOOK a resourceand policy-driven approach to preparation of new department leaders, offering a two-day orientation in the late summer that provided information on managing in the university environment. While highly informational, this approach left much to be desired in terms of preparing people for the challenging leadership aspects of their roles. As evidenced by the continued need for facilitation and support of emergent faculty affairs and departmental climate issues, many faculty leaders were missing key skill sets related to foundational leadership competencies. This program also limited participation to those in formal roles of academic department leadership and college level administrative leadership, missing other key academic leaders as well as those exploring or preparing for roles in leadership. In order to better meet existing needs of academic leaders, as well as to better prepare faculty for future leadership roles, the program was expanded and redefined to focus on providing opportunities to build leadership competencies in an environment that also consciously encourages peer networking and collaboration.

The Challenges of Leading in Academia

The organizational culture often present in academia poses a number of challenges for leaders. The faculty tenure system, shared governance models, and the variety of sub-cultures and priorities across the wide range of academic disciplines work together to create a system in which power and authority are not necessarily ascribed by position. In a very large, highly decentralized university, practices and approaches vary widely across colleges and even among departments. Tensions between organizational priorities, individual research priorities, and academic freedom can further strain the relationship between faculty and administrators. Add to these factors the fact that many faculty have not been sufficiently prepared with skills to lead effectively in this type of complex environment, and that many have not had skilled leadership role models, and the need for greater leadership competency development quickly becomes apparent. Traditionally, administrators in higher education have focused largely on the management aspects of their roles: budget administration, personnel considerations, student progress, and policy administration. This focus has resulted in an administrative culture that lacks a collective leadership perspective, missing opportunities for alignment with a vision for progress and transformation.

Several studies of leadership in higher education have highlighted some of the unique aspects of leading in the higher education environment as well as the challenge of transitioning from an intensively self-focused faculty perspective to a leadership role that requires broader perspective and a completely different set of interpersonal and organizationally focused leadership competencies. Spendlove (2007) finds that the competencies needed for effective leadership in higher education institutions do indeed differ from those needed in other types of organizations, and that leadership development in higher education needs not only to be intentionally structured to meet these unique needs, but also be available to faculty earlier in their careers. Raines and Alberg (2003) find in their study of professional development for academic leaders, "A working knowledge of leadership theory is an invaluable resource to a new leader, but all leadership is context specific. We must determine for ourselves how best to apply the theories within the unique culture of our environments." Further, spending time in the company of other leaders, learning from a variety of lived experiences, and building skills for shared and collaborative leadership practice are found to be important competencies for leading in an academic environment (Raines & Alberg, 2003; DeZure, et al., 2014; Kezar & Holcombe, 2017).

In order to better respond to all of these challenges, administrators at Virginia Tech recognized some years ago that there was greater need for leadership development among academic leaders as well as those considering or preparing for academic leadership roles in the future. …

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