office of the provost + academic affairsbecoming a successful chair

Secrets of Successful Chairs

How successful chairs manage the experience of being chair, what helped them to be successful, and what experiences encouraged them to pursue their work.

  • Chairs find their work exhilarating when they can obtain resources for the department, implement their vision, and create a positive environment.
  • The four recurrent responses centered on frustration when chairs were thwarted from obtaining resources for their departments, when their visions were blocked, when there were unresolved conflicts, and when there were endless reports to be written.
  • As a new chair, recognize at the outset that you know more than you think you do. Believe in yourself and your convictions.

Leadership Self-Assessment

Rate yourself on 10 leadership behaviors to get an overall indication of your willingness to accept leadership responsibilities while maintaining the respect of your faculty members

  • Are you able to give direction when needed without taking over (dominating) the functions of the staff.
  • Are you able to put in considerably more work than other faculty members without feeling resentment.
  • Are you able to recognize the benefit of diverse perspectives and participation even if it means increased conflict.

What Do Provosts and Deans Want from Chairs?

  • Comments abounded such as “Act like a leader!” and “If you see an issue, propose an alternative strategy or approach. Don’t just complain.”
  • You can talk all you want about the right CAO “goals” and department chair “work,” but if you don’t have good people and good judgment, no amount of analysis and system building will ever make you a success as an academic administrator.
  • The modern department chair is the lynchpin of the academic organization as it moves away from the mid-20th-century hierarchical model to the more free-form and flat 21st-century “knowledge worker” model. The call is less and less for chairs to serve as middle “managers” and more and more for chairs to think and respond as middle “leaders.”

Time Management for More Effective Results

  • A survey of the relevant literature on time management suggests that a well-organized workspace is essential. By eliminating clutter, setting up an effective filing system, gathering essential tools, and managing workflow, chairpersons can easily organize an effective workspace.
  • Many of the experts on time management agree that the most effective workers act on an item the first time it is touched. Although difficult at first, the practice can become habitual, and is made easier by remembering the four Ds: 1) delete it, 2) delegate it, 3) do it, or 4) defer it.
  • The basic steps in planning include 1) setting goals, 2) listing tasks, 3) setting priorities, and 4) implementing the plan. For academic chairpersons, calendars, project lists, and lists organized by categories of responsibilities are among the most effective management tools for setting goals, scheduling tasks, and implementing plans.

Words of Advice from Chairs and Dean

  • Be an advocate and mentor for your faculty. A new chair should have a conversation with every member of the department. What does each faculty member want, professionally? What obstacles may be in his or her way? How can the chair best help the faculty member achieve his/her goals? If your faculty sense your empathy for their needs and your willingness to advocate for them, they will be supportive when you are the bearer of bad news from above.
  • The real authority you have as a chairperson does not reside in your title but in how you lead. Treat all people with respect, even those who might not seem to merit it. Listen and learn; be open to the ideas you hear, and understand the opinions colleagues express to you. But don’t be overly credulous. React (calmly) when people have bad ideas or curious notions, gently pointing out the illogic and working to shape better action.
  • Ask for advice—from colleague chairs, from your dean, from senior colleagues who are living repositories of departmental history and mores, and especially from secretaries, whose trust you need to cultivate and whose practical knowledge of intra- and extra-departmental matters can be as invaluable as it is encyclopedic.

University of Wisconsin: “Enhancing Department Climate: A Chair’s Role”

  • Enhance basic manners by issuing a policy statement that makes it clear that all individuals in the department – faculty, staff, and students – are to be treated with dignity and respect; that differential treatment of women and men, and minorities and non-minorities is not appropriate and will not be tolerated.
  • Improve communication by clearly and honestly communicating departmental values, intentions, expectations – and act in accordance with them.
  • Build a sense of community by giving governance to all groups in your department. For example, make sure you have representation from the academic and classified staff, and from post-doctoral and graduate students at all departmental meetings. Consider giving these non-faculty representatives voting rights on certain departmental matters that effect them.

Building a Supportive Department Culture

Effective Communication for Conflict Resolution

Presentation by Matthew Cole, Ph.D.  Psychology Program Director, Lawrence Tech

Conflict resolution is a process of working through opposing views in order to reach a common goal or mutual purpose.

To be an effective communicator, we must listen.

  • 55% of communication is nonverbal.
  • 38% is in the tone of the voice.
  • 7% of effective communication is the words.
Keys to effective conflict resolution:
  •      Consider changing how you react to the person
  •      Stay flexible
  •      Check out the facts first
  •      Act with respect for yourself and others
  •      Own your feelings – making "I" statements
  •      Focus on solving the problem, not placing blame
  •      There’s no time like the present
  •      Change how you react to the person
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