faculty members recognize that becoming an effective department chair is a
challenging process that develops over time. That is, although we all can list
selected qualities of outstanding leaders (or at least “we can know it when we
see it”), successful chairs not only possess many of these characteristics, but
they also cultivate and incorporate these qualities within the context of their
own personalities, traits, and skills to be truly effective.
Qualities of effective chairs
sincere, trustworthy, humble, honest, collegial, and frank. In short, effective chairs show
to others. Good
leaders are aware that they don’t know everything and that good decisions are
made when appropriate input is gathered from knowledgeable colleagues.
good organization and record keeping. Department members depend on the department chair to
keep them informed of upcoming deadlines and events. They also depend on
accurate records so that they don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. The
chair typically acts as the repository of this information.
others in the decision-making process, but show decisiveness. It is important to create an
atmosphere of inclusiveness and transparency within the department. This means
that members are aware of what is happening in the department and that their
input is valued.
and prioritize tasks. Shared
governance and inclusiveness require that the chair delegates tasks to those
with the appropriate experience to complete them. A good leader resists the
urge to micromanage and to do everything. Delegating not only helps make the
chair job more doable, but it also helps build group cohesiveness and trust
within the department.
not reacting defensively, the chair focuses attention (and places importance)
on the issue, not on personalities.
not form cursory evaluations of the motives or goals of others. A chair should make sure to
collect information directly from a person before making any evaluations for
decisions. This makes it less likely that a biased or false impression is used
for any decisions related to the individual.
well with the administration, but do not be afraid to bring up issues when
appropriate. A good
chair is not constantly at odds with the administration but does know when it
is important to speak up. Being balanced and reasonable means that the
administration is more likely to listen when there are issues.
optimism, but also be realistic. Striking a reasonable balance between these two
positions makes the chair credible and approachable.
available. It is
difficult for chairs to do their jobs well if they are not on campus. Many
times being readily available can circumvent situations that can become more
problematic as time passes.
an adaptive leader. Adaptive
- Facilitate issues as well as
- Shift positions and viewpoints when
necessary to work through issues with different constituencies.
- Exhibit interest in (and respect
- Accept that their knowledge is
partial and foster inclusiveness for others’ knowledge.
- Recognize that their
responsibilities reach beyond technical solutions to engage in larger
issues that have uncertain solutions.
- Focus on the goals and invite
critical engagement with the goals.
- Recognize emerging leadership roles
among your colleagues and nurture these for future development within your
Self-reflection and analysis
your strengths and weaknesses. Understanding
your personal qualities and skills can lead to being an effective chair since
you can develop a leadership style that plays to your strengths. Similarly,
recognizing your limitations helps you to decide when you need to seek help
and/or advice from others.
that you can and will make mistakes. Acceptance
of this fact may help you to have humility and more compassion for others
(qualities that can help a chair tremendously in terms of building consensus).
Don’t be afraid to admit it when you are wrong...we all make mistakes. Realize
that you may also face criticism for your work as chair. Try to not take the
criticism personally, and where appropriate, use the feedback to become a more
examine your people skills.
As part of this process, it might be useful to identify interpersonal
situations in which you are both comfortable and uncomfortable. Such reflection
can help isolate areas where you can improve on how you relate to and work with
your colleagues and students as a department leader.
how your colleagues and students perceive you. Misperceptions can rapidly erode the
authority and ability to lead for even the most effective department chairs.
While one certainly cannot foresee (or control) every possible perception that
others might draw, it is extremely useful to consider how others might perceive
your words, actions, and decisions as chair before you speak or act.
Additional suggestions for tackling the job
chair is, to some extent, an agent of the university. As such, chairs
frequently encounter materials and/or situations that are of a confidential
nature. While it would be impossible to give comprehensive advice on all of the
areas where maintaining confidentiality applies, chairs should strive to stay
informed about relevant matters involving confidentiality, and when in doubt,
they should consult with their area chair, Associate Provost for Academic
Affairs or the Provost.
for help whenever you need it. It
is not showing weakness to seek advice or to contact someone in administration
if you have doubts about how to handle a specific situation.
friends, not enemies. Having
some type of regular meeting with faculty members BEFORE an issue arises builds
a foundation of trust so that when things do happen, you already know one
with people rather than creating e-mail wars. E-mail communication can be very
effective in some situations. However, it is not a good place for discussions
that may become contentious. When an e-mail interaction looks like it is
heading in this direction, the best policy is to ask to meet in person (but
remember to take notes on the meeting).
department members, staff, and students how you can help. Placing yourself in the position of
helping others is a good way to remind yourself that you are performing a
service as the chair.
the good work of others. Recognition
of achievements of both department members and students builds a culture of
excitement and good will.
what you have accomplished each day rather than dwelling on what didn’t get
done. This can be a difficult
task even when one is “just” a faculty member, but it can be even more
challenging when one adds administrative tasks. Keeping a positive perspective
regarding your accomplishments helps to keep you mentally and physically
the job that you accepted. There
may be days when things are rough, and there are difficult situations to
handle. However, not taking care of these things only makes them worse.
Stepping up to the plate and accepting the responsibility will make it easier
the next time something happens.
- Think carefully about when to make decisions on your
own, and when to involve others in the discussion.
Recognize that you are
simply a faculty member taking your turn in leading the department, and that
others have preceded you (and will succeed you). Use past history and whether
you would want to be included on a decision if you weren’t chair as a guide.
Err on being transparent and inclusive, but realize that some colleagues simply
want you to “make the call”. Lastly, update your colleagues about upcoming
decisions via email or announcements in meeting agendas, asking for their input
(and later informing them about final decisions).