Being an Effective Programme Director

man juggling items on first

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 

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 [1] 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) 

These are 

  • Relational Leadership 
  • Embodied Leadership
  • Enabling Leadership and
  • Administrative Leadership. 

model of programme leadership comprising relational, embodied, enabling and administrative leadership interpreted from Doug Parkin's description - administrative leadership is disproportionately represented

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). 

A more balanced model of leadership (relational. embodied, enabling and administrative) overlapped in Venn diagram. Interpreted from Doug Parkin's description

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: 

Talking Teaching across the Globe – Oxford Brookes University 



Louise Rees 

Senior Academic Developer (HEA), SALT 

(1) Programme Directors at Swansea University = Programme Leaders in the SEDA book 

Gaining HEA Senior Fellowship recognition and the value of being an assessor

In the HEA Fellowship blog, we’re continuing to measure the impact that HEA Fellowship has on teaching practices, on students and on the practices and approaches of peers. We’ve also asked for some suggestions when teaching/supporting learning online!

In this post, Desiree Cranfield, from the School of Management discusses her HEA Senior Fellowship recognition (SFHEA), with pointers to the impact on her practice that has arisen by her being an assessor on Swansea’s Experiential route:

Being an assessor has been an eye opener … inspiring me to think of other innovative approaches as I read and assess the submissions.

Continue reading “Gaining HEA Senior Fellowship recognition and the value of being an assessor”

SALT’s highlights of 2022!

How quickly time flies, we are already in 2023!

We would like to reflect on the past year at SALT with you. 2022 has been both challenging and exciting for us at the university. It has been the time where many of us have returned to campus to teach, reconnecting with colleagues and students. This has been difficult for some, as many of us have had to adapt to new ways of teaching, learning, collaborating and connecting. It is the year where various digital education trends have surged: virtual reality, gamification, online teaching and learning, online training sessions and much more. At SALT, we’d like to reflect on the year 2022, and outline some of our favourite moments.

International Women’s Day 2022

International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8th March every year. It is a chance to celebrate women’s history, remember women’s struggles and to focus on women’s resistance across the world. This is important to us at SALT, so to show our passion for the event, we produced a podcast.

Effective Practice Seminars

Our CPD team in SALT organised a wide range of Effective Practice seminars online via Zoom. These sessions discussed various topics with academics and professional services staff. Don’t miss out and watch our recordings.

Explore Seminars

Bookable Canvas Clinic sessions service release

This year the Technology Enhanced Learning Development team released a new support service for academic staff, where you can book a session with one of the TEL team for support with anything Canvas related. This new support service continues in 2023.

Learn more

The SALT Conference 2022

We held the annual conference on July 13th 2022, filled with inspirational talks and discussions. For many, it was great to connect face-to-face again. Read about our conference below, and watch our session recordings.


Student Nominated Award Winners 2022

Recognising and rewarding excellent teaching is a core part of our work and SALT is home to the Student Nominated Teaching Awards. This continues to be one of the highlights of our year. Congratulations to the winners.

Award Winners 2022

International Men’s Day

International Men’s Day is globally celebrated annually on 19th November to recognise and celebrate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of men. The broader aim of the event is also to promote awareness of men’s issues. This is important to us at SALT, so we created a podcast.

Questioning Assessment

One of SALT’s highlights include  ‘Questioning Assessment’, an online panel discussion programme, hosted by academic partners Dr Joanne Berry and Dr Patricia Xavier along with Rhian Ellis. This addressed some key questions and assumptions about assessment. Why assess? Does pressure in assessment lead to resilience?  Why do students fail? Do we trust our students?, followed by a pilot workshop at SUSALT22.

Learn More

Promoting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Mandy Jack and Dr. Pamela Styles at SALT were pleased to deliver a workshop at the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Event, September 2022, hosted by the Faculties of Science and Engineering/ Medicine, Health and Life Sciences. It was great to share effective practice with colleagues from across the University and to talk about how we can work together to make students feel more included.

Facilitating Students’ Development of Assessment and Feedback Skills Through Critical Engagement with Generative Artificial Intelligence

Originator: Dr Michael Waring (University of Leeds); Professor Carol Evans (Griffith University)

Shaking hands with AI

An exploration of how, by adopting a principled approach, generative artificial intelligence (AI) such as ChatGPT and other large language model based chatbots can be used to support students’ development of assessment and feedback skills.

Access this ResearchGate article here.

Jisc – Assessment ideas for an AI enabled world

Originator: Jisc – via Sue Attewell (Head of AI and codesign)

Jisc AI top Trump cards

Jisc have recently published the following assessment cards, based on Lydia Arnolds Top Trumps. The work was led by Dr Isobel Bowditch, UCL, and the focus is aimed at Assessment development that enabled students to develop foundational knowledge, skills and attributes that will help them thrive in an AI enabled world (with or without AI assistance).

Open in slideshow mode for full functionality. There are 6 categories and over 40 modes.

View the cards here.

Generative AI in Assessment

Originators: Dr Nigel Francis – Cardiff University; Professor David Smith – Sheffield Hallam

Artificial intelligence

Originally written as an internal advice document for the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University, its authors thought it would be helpful to share these ideas more widely in case they are useful for other institutions or departments. This is very much a living document, as new tools and capabilities will, inevitably, cause further changes to assessment design.

Please feel free to share and adapt the document for your individual circumstances if helpful. If you have any feedback or suggestions for improvements, then the authors would be happy to receive these and incorporate them into future versions of this document.

While it is approached through a bioscience perspective, it is hoped that many of the approaches will have cross-disciplinary applications.

View this document here.

Preliminary Ecological Appraisal

Originator: Dr Wendy Harris – FSE – School of Biosciences, Geography and Physics


Producing a Preliminary Ecological Proposal for a specified site. The final output will be a written report, but many discipline specific practical skills will need to be demonstrated in its production.
Sampling, species and habitat identification, critical assesssing, knowledge of relevant legislation and practical ecological techniques etc

This is an activity that would be directly relevant to working in the field.

Read full assessment brief here.

HIH3327 Observing Britain: Everyday Life in the Mid 20th Century – Creative Project UnEssay

Originator: Professor Martin Johnes – FHSS – School of Culture & Communication

Creative project

Students were able to choose between a creative project or a traditional essay.

It ran for the first time in 2020-21 and around half the module choose the project. The projects included lesson plans/resources for schools, podcasts, videos, a poem, a one-man play, an illustrated children’s book, and a website for teenagers.

For more information, see here.

ALE250 – Accessible summaries

Originator: Dr Cornelia Tschichold – FHSS – School of Culture & Communication

Working something out

Assessment is broken inot 4 sections. Weekly quizzes, a group video presentation (formative),an accessible (lay) summary and an exam.

For the accessible summary, students choose a research paper (from a list) for their presentation and summary. They receive formative feedback on the group presentation and then write their individual summaries of this paper.

For more details, see here.