Leadership Training for Department Chairs

Program reviews

by Jennifer Faust (California State University)

Department chairs are the “front line” of academic management (whether or not, in fact, their positions are classified as management or as faculty) -- yet most department chairs receive little or no training for their positions.

There are reasons for this:

  • A lack of appropriately trained trainers on campus
  • A chair population that makes up a mixed audience from the very new to the long-term, seasoned chair
  • Differing needs across disciplines
  • No clear training curriculum or outcomes

Yet many problems that rise to higher levels of administration could be avoided or mitigated if they are handled by well-trained chairs in the first place. And institutions that neglect chairs do so at their own peril. Leadership training is especially critical now, given the pressures that tightened budgets, changing modes of delivery for instruction, increased demands for accountability, the growing diversity of the academy, and increased attention to employment law within academic institutions, all place on the expectations for department chairs.

Why "Leadership" Training?

Leadership training goes beyond other kinds of training. Indeed, the term "leadership training" might well be parsed out as a combination of training and leadership development:

  • Training is a means of teaching chairs particular institutional policies, practices, resource management tools, and the like. The desired outcomes are easily measured and quickly implemented.
  • Leadership, on the other hand, is a more ephemeral outcome. A good department chair will mentor junior faculty, foster a collegial environment, support a diverse group of teachers and scholars, encourage voluntary compliance with mandates from “on high,” to name a few desiderata – and doing so requires judgment and character traits that warrant following. So, developing leadership in your department chairs must be a sustained effort that involves the practicing of skills across a broad array of contexts.

Developing a leadership training curriculum must take these features into account. The best training programs will both produce immediate outcomes and develop leadership skills over a sustained period of time.

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