Top 5 Tips for Academic Administrators in Higher Ed

As the long-standing dean at the School of Health Sciences at Touro College, I have learned many valuable insights that will help administrators do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Although it is based on my experience in higher education, many of the tips can be applied to an administrator in any administrative situation including K-12 education or business.

Following these tips will establish you as a competent and effective leader, and, in turn, will help those who report to you enjoy a high level of job satisfaction as you work together to achieve the goals and objectives of your college or university. Effective management and leadership create a productive work environment and a high level of morale.

  1. Know the difference between leadership and management
    Management consists of the ability to arrange and control all the elements of situations to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to a person’s ability to motivate and inspire others so that they will become valuable members of the team so that your college or university will be successful.  Managers create and execute plans that help a college or university reach its goals and objectives. Leaders establish those goals and objectives and inspire those who report to them. Inspiration and goal and objective setting distinguish managers from leaders. In your position, you should aim to be a good manager and a great leader.
  2. Make connections with everyone who works in your workspace
    Wherever your office is located, you will be in a space occupied by people doing a wide variety of jobs. You will have maintenance personnel, security guards, faculty members, administrative assistants, students, cafeteria staff, and others. You will encounter some of those people every day and others more infrequently depending on what position you hold and their responsibilities. You should make it your business to get to know all those people. Learn their names and stop and chat from time to time.

    When you can, offer to help and make sure you acknowledge the things they do for you. As a person who is in charge, many will consider you a person who has wise advice to share. It is good to remember that just listening and being present has great benefits for you and the people with whom you are interacting. It is also good to acknowledge the fact that you may not have anything useful to say to a person sharing their problems, but they will appreciate the opportunity to be heard. Your interactions will help create a positive atmosphere that will affect the quality of life for everyone in your environment, including you. 
  3. Put your personal feelings aside
    Your own beliefs, knowledge, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses will play a role in your impression of others. As an administrator, your impression of each person will include your evaluation of their effectiveness in executing their role in your department, school, or university. Your overall impression will be negative or positive. It is important that you work at not letting your personal impression of those with whom you interact affect your dealings with them. As an administrator, you will be faced with making decisions that affect those who report to you. You will need to make decisions about requests for resources, applications for promotion, and other things that affect those who report to you. In all these cases, you need to keep a check on your response in terms of letting your personal preferences and impressions dominate and bias your decisions.

    You need to make your decisions based on the merits of the request.  If you don’t do that, your bias will become obvious to all of those who report to you and to those to whom you report.  This will ultimately undermine your authority and lead to you being seen as a biased leader who does not make fair and equitable decisions. At times, you may be unaware of these biases unless you examine them each time a decision is placed in front of you.  It is a good idea to consult with those with whom you have built a strong and trusting relationship.  Often others can see our biases, preferences, and impressions more clearly.

    4. Understand different learning styles
    Each of us has developed a method for doing our professional work. Some professionals work on a project continually and don’t stop working until they complete the project. Other professionals work in episodes. Some professionals start work on a project as soon as it is assigned to them.  Others don’t start working on a project until it’s closer to the deadline set for its completion. When you have professionals who report to you, it is important that you discover what approach they take in undertaking a project.  It is important that you don’t expect all of those who report to you to work the same way you do on a project.  The important criteria that you should use in evaluating someone’s work is whether the project gets completed on time and that the work produced is of the quality specified for the project. The timeliness and the quality of the project should be all that matters and should be all you address when you give them feedback on their work.

    It is true that people learn in different ways.  This fact has led to development of the concept of learning styles.  Some people find auditory materials easier to learn and prefer learning things by listening to presentations.  Others would rather see the materials they need to learn and therefore prefer reading and other forms of visual presentation.  Other prefer to learn by doing things. It is also possible that we may learn certain types of material using one modality and another type of material using a different modality. It is important for us to take learning style into consideration when we are presenting materials that we want people to learn or are giving them projects to complete. 

    5. If you give someone the responsibility, give them decision power
    In your role as an administrator, you will need to assign projects to different members of your team.  When you do this, it is important that you specify exactly what you want and when you want it.  It is also important that you set a reasonable deadline for the completion of the project.  It is important that you spend enough time with your team members so that they are clear as to what you want to happen.  It is also important that you make it clear that you are available for questions and input when they deem it necessary.  It critically important that you make it clear that you give them permission to make whatever decisions they believe they can make and only consult with you when they believe they need your input.

    If you continually check up on your team members while they are working on the project, you will undermine their confidence and make it difficult for them to complete the task and feel a sense of accomplishment. Micromanaging interferes with productivity and is very demoralizing to those being micromanaged. If you want to create a team that is effective and productive, you need to let those team members complete the projects they are given. You can consult when asked to do so, but it is a mistake to try to get too involved in the execution of the project.

These tips have been excerpted from Dean Primavera’s new book, Tips for an Academic Administrator in Higher Education: A Handbook of 53 Practical Suggestions.

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