Beyond Lecturing: Moving into University Management Roles

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Career paths for academics can vary a great deal. Depending on your contract, academia can offer lecturers a rich array of pathways to pursue. With a bit of preparation and investigation, you may find that there are opportunities to direct your activity not just towards teaching or research, but also towards administration in the first instance, and beyond that, towards higher-level management.

But such an option doesn’t seem obvious to many. Academics tend to think of themselves as researchers or teachers – sometimes to the exclusion of all else. But consider this: there is a case for saying that the most successful academics already excel at one particular form of management – project management.

To pursue a research career, for instance, you have to come up with an idea, research it, persuade funders of its merit, manage staff who are working on it, deliver complex outcomes to set deadlines, and manage budgets related to it. The same could be said of teaching: with no set national curriculum to adhere to, academics are self-guided, highly imaginative, creative people who work with colleagues to devise effective programmes which deliver nationally benchmarked learning outcomes.

These are all considerable management achievements. What’s more, they testify to skills that some may wish to develop in higher-level management roles.

So how do you move into university management?

First, decide what type of management you are aiming for. You may wish to aim for management roles within your department, or for high-level, senior management with a cross-university brief. These are of course very different, but considering the following 10 points may help you on your way.

  1. Assess your Skills. Be honest with yourself. Do you have the full complement of skills that outward-facing managerial roles require? These may include teamwork, financial savvy, people skills, and IT skills.
  2. Get experience. Get yourself on departmental and school-level committees. See what works for you and what doesn’t. Build a track record as a reliable pair of hands to see an administrate task through.
  3. Get Training. Once you have identified an area of management you wish to explore, set about getting as much training in that area as possible. Look first to in-house training courses.
  4. Ask those in the know. Find out who does the job you are interested in, and approach them, if possible, to ask them for a few pointers on how best to proceed in order to land that position.
  5. Step forward. Don’t wait to be approached. Make your interest known to your head of school and to those outside the school with whom you have a connection.
  6. Manage big budgets. If you have the financial acumen to take on a large managerial role, show it off! This can be a rare asset in high-level management, and word of it will spread.
  7. Drive policy. Research university policy well, and use your knowledge to make well-informed contributions to committees on which you already serve.
  8. Be discerning. Know what the exit points are for any major administrative role you may take on.
  9. Keep taking stock. Remember to pause and reflect on your career path every so often. As in much else, deciding to go down the path of university management often means compromises – usually in your research or teaching. Make sure the trade-off is acceptable for you and your values.
  10. Use your annual review. This can be a great time to let your head of school and senior colleagues know that you are interested in pursuing management options. Show them what you have already done, and tell them why you want to do more.

Finally, of course, your career in management may not stop there. Some people find that they wish to move into a management-only position, and leave the academic side behind altogether. 

If that is the case, then your experience as a mixed practitioner – as an academic who has pushed hard to gain valuable experience and understanding of university management – will stand you in excellent stead. You may also wish to seek advice from external headhunters or career advisors on how you can further shape your CV to look like the perfect candidate for that next managerial role.

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