University Leaders’ Perceptions of Leadership Responsibilities and their Preparedness

Year: 2019

Author: Scott, Donald, Scott, Shelleyann, Anne, Abdoulaye, Dudar, Linda, Fournier, Elaine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This research is part of the International Study of Leadership Development in Higher Education and involved a survey with university deans and associate deans across Canada. Even though the overall study is mixed methods, this paper reports on the findings from a survey which explored middle level university leaders’ perceptions of what was most challenging in their leadership role and how effective their leadership development experiences were in preparing them for the demands of leading a faculty. We sampled 45 universities across Canada with a particular focus on including a at least 15: top-ranked research-intensive, comprehensive (equally teaching and research focused), and undergraduate universities. Both levels of middle level leadership were included, namely deans and associate deans or heads of faculty/department. Leaders identified that leadership of faculties and departments is equally challenging and rewarding but their leadership development experiences did not really prepare them effectively for the demands of their position. The three most contentious issues for deans included: financial management and entrepreneurial activities, relationship building with faculty and students, and promoting positive and productive cultures. A key factor for associate deans was the workload and considerable lack of authority entailed in their role. There was little leadership development available for deans but many programs available for associate deans. Much of the leadership development that was required for deans related to the managerial and administrative aspects of their role, particularly in meeting the expectations of their institution’s senior executive team rather than focusing on theoretically-sound understandings of leadership. Leadership development for associate deans and heads of department was also focused on the pragmatics of the job rather than introducing these leaders to theoretically strong understandings of the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ of leadership. Recommendations for leadership development content, format, and availability will be included. This study will be of interest to deans, associate deans and heads of department as well as leadership developers and HR personnel charged with promoting leadership effectiveness in universities. Findings will be relevant in informing leadership development programming.