I have just been to the Association of University Administrators Conference at the University of Warwick where there was much discussion about changing academic and administrative roles in universities and higher education.  The discussion about terminology for administrators is continuing, largely based at the conference about professionalism and the need to change the phrase used to describe those staff who don't have roles that are primarily about teaching or research. 'Professional staff' seems to be gaining acceptance in Australia, and I heard the term 'professional services staff' often at the conference. Right now, however, the term 'non-academic' is most often used in formal structures and systems by government and institutions. And, despite the efforts of many, governments, institutions and those who think administrators should be seen and not heard have resisted calls for change, largely by ignoring them.  I think the momentum is building so they may not be able to ignore the call for change for much longer. As I left the Conference, I picked up Engage, the magazine from the UK Leadership Foundation, and read an article by Tom Kennie, Academic Leadership: dimensions and dynamics.  It's a good article, highlighting six key dimensions of academic leadership:

  • credibility - personal, peer, positional, political,
  • curiosity - challenge, creativity,
  • collegiality - team, discipline, academic unit, profession, institution,
  • capabilities - horizon scanning, sense-making, performing, connecting, celebrating,
  • character - integrity, resilience, distinctiveness, and
  • confidence - inner, outer.

I like the model, but as I was reading about it, I wondered why this is a model of ACADEMIC leadership?  Why not a model of university leadership?  Would a model of leadership developed by professional administrative staff look any different?  I think not.

Getting our brains to recognise that leading the university into the future will require the talents of all staff to be tapped, no matter what their background, is probably one of the biggest challenges in the sector today.  Alongside how to deal with declining funding, increasing globalisation and the impact of technology on universities, we need to be thinking strategically about how to shift our mental models about how universities are managed and led.

The historical and now clearly out-dated view that only an academic staff member can manage and lead a university is holding these institutions back. We must stop trying to define academic and administrative leadership in different ways, and open our minds to the idea of a leadership model that applies to all staff.  And, we need to get beyond the corporate managerialist hold on the thinking of some people about how universities are governed and led (see this article in the latest issue of  Times Higher Education which has fallen prey to the 'administrator as evil' myth) if we are to be able to build a new paradigm of university leadership that will sustain these institutions into the future.