Why is considering leadership approaches helpful?
I’ve been championing the important role of programme directors for almost 10 years, previously in my capacity as head of the Quality Office in Academic Services and recently resurrected in my role within SALT supporting professional recognition through Advance HE’s Fellowship scheme. I see many colleagues struggle to articulate successful ‘leading’ when they make their claim for Senior Fellowship and see the value of providing the support BEFORE many indeed take on or inherit the programme director role.
I also hear stories of the challenges of juggling and almost literally firefighting that are epitomised in both research literature and blogposts of everyday realities (see for example Emma Kennedy’s recent account https://www.santanuvasant.com/2022/09/12/programme-leadership-in-higher-education-three-key-contradictions/).
I can see the value of reflecting on my own ‘small l’ leadership as I prepare my own claim for Senior Fellowship recognition. Many of the characteristics I can see myself demonstrating, yet I didn’t know that these were ‘recommended approaches’ of effective leadership. Donald Rumsfeld (then Secretary of Defense of the United States) said in a February 12 2022 press briefing
“[A]s we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
The literature about effective leadership falls into that unknown unknown category for me.
What are effective leadership strategies for Programme Directors?
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be summarising some of the key findings from chapters in the book Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in Higher Education: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Educational Developers and Programme Leaders, (SEDA, Routledge) (2022) edited by Jenny Lawrence, Susan Moron-Garcia and Rowena Senior.
This post reflects on what we can learn from Doug Parkin’s chapter 6, in Part 2 on “Programme leaders as educational and academic leaders”.
Some questions about leadership….
As Programme Director, how do you lead your team?
- What are the qualities of effective Programme Directors? How do you know what is effective?
- What ‘training’ or guidance did you receive in effective leadership approaches?
- How DO you keep juggling (even when the issues aren’t “on fire” as in the featured picture)?
Dimensions of Programme Leadership
In his chapter, Doug Parkin outlines four aspects of leadership that he feels enables programme directors  to develop credibility and demonstrate trust so
“that colleagues are inspired and trusted to innovate their practice routinely, deliver teaching inclusively and provide feedback for learning conscientiously” (Parkin 2022, p 97)
- Relational Leadership
- Embodied Leadership
- Enabling Leadership and
- Administrative Leadership.
Figure 1 Four dimensions of programme leadership – interpreted from Parkin (2022)
It’s a useful chapter not just for programme directors, but for anyone who is ‘small l’ leading and is therefore considering how their practice of supporting others best demonstrates the tricky Senior Fellow criterion of ‘Successful coordination, support, supervision, management and/or mentoring of others (whether individuals and/or teams) in relation to learning and teaching’ UKPSF, 2011, D3 Vii. While ‘leadership’ isn’t explicitly mentioned in this criterion, its often inherent as staff reflect and evidence how they effectively engage and support colleagues to achieve a shared objective that enhances student learning.
The chapter gives examples of what each of the other leadership styles might look like in practical terms for programme leaders (e.g. having a network of fellow Programme Directors to support relational leadership; modelling examples and active listening in showing embodied leadership) and also how institutions can enable the leadership through, for example, appropriate recognition of the value of the role, ongoing development for programme leaders, setting and clearly sharing the key vision and supporting communication with others.
Too often it’s the administrative side of the Programme Director role that takes up the most time as suggested in my adapted Figure 1 and role holders get increasingly disillusioned and frustrated that they can’t necessarily do the staff support and pedagogical enhancements they’d like to. In providing administrative leadership, the relationship with professional services staff is critical to freeing the time of Programme Directors and ensuring that administrative matters can run smoothly.
Therefore, in the bedding down of the revised Faculty structure, we have the opportunity now to share the values of the programme and the administrative burden and to support Programme Directors to lead in effective learning, teaching and assessment practices in a more balanced way where the leadership dimensions can be applied more equitably (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 A more balanced model of the 4 dimensions of programme leadership
And if we know what makes for effective programme leadership, why aren’t these qualities built into person specifications to get the most effective person for the role and appropriate CPD offered to support staff to gain the transferable skills?
An Institutional response
A Programme Directors Working Group was established in February 2022 to scope how to better support those who fulfil this vital role within Swansea University. The Group reported its findings about appropriate induction and ongoing CPD for Programme Directors at the PD Community Forum on December 7th, 2022, and feedback is being reviewed and next steps developed.
Part of the remit has been to explore continual professional learning opportunities regarding ‘leadership’ and members of the Group made specific recommendations on this. Contributing to that will be my recommendation that exploring the types of leadership as suggested by Parkin should be a key aspect to support professional development of Programme Directors. And not just upon appointment.
To be effective and address what Ellis (2019, p31) identifies as critical transition period “the months either side of becoming a programme leader have emerged as of central importance”, CPD in effective leadership skills should be available to all, to prepare staff to effectively lead programmes to provide an excellent student learning experience.
Watch out for other synopses of this useful book in supporting Programme Directors over the coming weeks and the seminar series by OCAED and SEDA to support the book.
Recordings of the seminars are expected to be available from their website:
Senior Academic Developer (HEA), SALT
(1) Programme Directors at Swansea University = Programme Leaders in the SEDA book