ERIC Identifier: ED433870
Publication Date: 1999-09-00
Author: Lindholm, Jennifer
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Preparing Department Chairs for Their Leadership Roles. ERIC
What role will community college department chairs play in the colleges of
the 21st century? What types of training and development programs will best
prepare them to meet the complex challenges and expectations that
characteristically define their role? A community college department chair is
responsible for many areas including: curricula and program review and
modification; faculty issues such as hiring, development, and scheduling;
student satisfaction with curriculum and faculty; student issues; and budget and
planning analyses in departments, divisions, or programs. Additionally, chairs
may serve as liaisons to staff, upper-level administration, and the community.
This review of the articles presented in the New Directions for Community
Colleges volume entitled Preparing Department Chairs for Their Leadership Roles
provides an overview in two main areas: role-related issues confronting new
department chairs in the community college; and training and development
programs that will aid in preparing mid-level administrators to meet the
forthcoming institutional challenges.
Effective leadership at the department chair level will be critically
important in the coming years because of the discontinuous nature of change. As
Spangler suggests, rapid and radical change presents a threatening force to many
community colleges, and by extension, their campus-based leaders. In order to
continue with their historic mission, it is likely that community colleges will
need stronger internal leadership than ever before (Spaid and Parsons).
ACADEMIC CHAIRS: MULTIPLE ROLES, MULTIFACETED
Department chairs fulfill a unique niche within the institutional
landscape of community colleges. They play an instrumental role in nearly every
aspect of departmental life, and their actions and influence are typically felt
beyond their individual departments. As Gillett-Karam suggests, chairs perhaps
can be best defined metaphorically as the "glue" that binds together students,
faculty, curriculum, and college. Their responsibilities are, indeed, very
broadly defined. Pettitt, for example, identifies seven general categories of
job tasks regularly attended to by academic chairs: (1) curriculum and
instruction; (2) internal administration (e.g., coordination of communication
and resources within department and between departments); (3) professional
development; (4) human relations and personnel administration; (5) budget
planning, development, and control; (6) student relations; and (7) external
Chairs face the challenges and conflicts of "leading from the middle" and, as
such, must be skilled communicators, mediators, and facilitators. In an analysis
of chairs' self-perceptions and role definitions, Spaid and Parsons found that
chairs view themselves as needing to be honest, to work well with others, and to
learn from internal and external challenges. Chairs also view the tasks of
listening, promoting teamwork, and breaking down communication barriers as
critically important. New chairs, in particular, must learn to contend with
three particularly difficult challenges associated with their administrative
position: (1) learning how to balance loyalty to one's specific discipline with
that to the institution; (2) developing appropriate and effective conflict
resolution skills; and (3) understanding how to build effective teams (Filan).
The demanding, multifaceted role that these mid-level campus leaders fill is
essential in ensuring effective day-to-day management of campus life. Despite
their experience in overseeing daily operations and the generally high level of
responsibility they hold for decision-making and action, more than three-fourths
of community college chairs do not advance to high-level administrative
positions (Gillett-Karam). Frequently, the attempts of those who do seek
advancement are thwarted by limited structural opportunities. The nature of the
role itself may also lead to high levels of burnout, particularly for those who
are not well prepared to handle the inevitable demands of administration
(Gillett-Karam et al).
A number of factors operate collectively to either facilitate or hinder a
chair's transition into his or her new role. Skills and knowledge from prior
professional experience have been found to be particularly valuable (Smith &
Stewart). In addition, the new chair's approach to learning the specific demands
of tasks, roles, and interpersonal relationships and his or her approach to
handling unexpected elements of the new job play decidedly key roles in
effective transition (Smith & Stewart). While much attention has been
devoted to the personal characteristics and professional abilities that are
associated with effective department chair leadership, there has been
surprisingly little focus on training and development. Consequently, the
learning process for chairs may be defined most accurately as largely informal
(Filan, Smith, & Stewart).
TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS FOR A NEW
According to Spaid and Parsons, four key components define the ideal
management style: adaptiveness, flexibility, responsiveness, and ethical
sensitivity. They assert that in the coming century, community college chairs
will need to be facilitators of organizational change, and focus on Matusek's
(1997) framework of core values that will facilitate organizational prosperity
in the new social context: (1) releasing human potential; (2) balancing
individual and group needs; (3) defining and defending fundamental values
through internal and external community; and (4) instilling and facilitating
initiative and responsibility at all organizational levels.
How can community colleges continue to thrive and prosper within a new social
context? One often-raised suggestion is the call for more structured and
systematic leadership training. As Pettitt points out, the most effective
training programs for chairs will focus not simply on generic skill development,
but rather on skill development within the unique context of the community
college environment, taking into account the culture and history of the chair's
particular institution. Good training, Pettitt asserts, intimately involves the
chair's reality. As such, he advocates the use of action-learning projects,
reality-based case methods, and mentoring to tailor broad leadership development
and training programs to the specific needs of the individuals who participate
in them. Three examples of programs and organizations that foster department
chair leadership through such training and development activities are the North
Carolina State University (NCSU) Program, the Administrative Leadership
Institute, and the Chair Academy.
The NCSU program models the collaborative approach to leadership that many
believe will become the norm in the coming century. As Gillett-Karam describes,
it is designed not only to broaden chairs' knowledge of their role but also to
enhance their supervision and management skills. Toward this end, the program
emphasizes five areas of training: (1) leadership; (2) scholarship; (3) research
and application; (4) teamwork and collaboration; and (5) skill development with
an emphasis on the role of teamwork in creating and maintaining effective
learning-centered institutions. Participants engage in case scenarios,
examination of best practices, analysis and implementation of different
leadership styles, and shadowing to hone their own knowledge and professional
skill. Similarly, the Administrative Leadership Institute was founded to provide
opportunities for chairs to learn through interaction with their professional
peers (Spangler). The Institute's programs are structured around the principles
of collegiality, the responsibility of leadership, and the need for ongoing
training and refreshment of skills. Specific foci on administrative concepts,
applied knowledge, and so-called survival skills provide both a model for
effective leadership and a support system for practitioners.
The Chair Academy is a multifaceted organization that holds international
conferences that promote social and professional interaction for academic chairs
(Filan). The Academy strives to create a more widespread base of training and
support for chairs with innovations such as online leadership, development
course offerings, and broad-based succession and leadership development
programs. In 1992, the Academy conducted the first comprehensive analysis of
department chairs, surveying over 9,000 individuals who were currently employed
as academic department chairs in the United States and Canada. The study focused
not only on the characteristics of chairs and the dominant responsibilities of
their positions, but also on unique role-related challenges and effective
response strategies. Most importantly, the results provide a broad-based
foundation for future research and development activities aimed at preparing and
sustaining effective leaders in the department chair role.
Department chairs are called on to fulfill
multiple roles. In order for community colleges to continue to thrive in the
coming century, it will be essential for chairs to have the necessary skills to
perform effectively in each of these diverse roles. As Yamasaki aptly suggests,
it is perhaps time to endorse a conception of leadership at the department chair
level that goes beyond the traditionally rigid "leader vs. manager"
classification and to consider, instead, a new form of "managerial leadership."
To date, researchers and practitioners have begun to identify some of the key
challenges confronted by department chairs. Training and development programs
have also been initiated to help aid chairs in their transition to this complex
role, and to facilitate effective professional practice. Much of the research on
leadership at the department chair level has focused on the personal
characteristics that tend to be associated with effectiveness in such a role. To
develop a more comprehensive understanding of how to promote both effective
transition and sustained performance within this role, we must continue to
refine our understanding of the personal dimension of leadership. We must also
continue to extend our awareness of how chair behavior may be differentially
affected by institutional factors such as departmental climate, organizational
culture and support, and sheer size. This Digest is drawn from "Preparing
Department Chairs for Their Leadership Roles," New Directions for Community
Colleges, Number 105, Rosemary Gillett-Karam, Ed., Jossey-Bass: San Francisco,
CA, Spring 1999:
Filan, G.L. The Need for Leadership Training: The Evolution of the Chair
Academy. (pp. 47-56).
Gillett-Karam, R. Midlevel Management in the Community College. (pp. 5-12).
Gillett-Karam, R. with Cameron, D.W., Messina, R.C. Jr., Mittlestet, S.K.,
Mulder, A.E., Sykes, A.E. Jr., & Thornton, J.S. College Presidents Examine
Midlevel Management in the Community College. (pp. 37-46).
Pettitt, J.M. Situating Midlevel Managers' Training: Learning and Doing in
Context. (pp. 57-66).
Spaid, R.L. & Parsons, M.H. Meeting the Millennium's Challenge: Leading
from Where You Are. (pp. 13-20).
Spangler, M.S. The Practitioner's Guide to Midlevel Management Development.
Smith, A.B. & Stewart, G.A. A Statewide Survey of New Department Chairs:
Their Experiences and Needs in Learning Their Roles. (pp. 29-36). Yamasaki, E.
Understanding Managerial Leadership as More than an Oxymoron. (pp. 67-74).
Matusak, L.R. (1997). Finding Your Voice: Learning to Lead...Anywhere You
Want to Make a Difference. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.