Moving from Academic to Management Roles: 5 Steps to Take

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In these days of change, credible voices are needed throughout the university sector. The barriers between academic and management jobs are far more permeable than they used to be, as universities continue to grow into highly complex environments requiring sophisticated and adaptable management skills. So if you’re an academic who is contemplating a move into HE management, now may just be the time to reflect on how your experience might suit the sector. Here are five steps to help you get your CV in the best possible shape.

  1. ­­­­Pick your specialism

It pays to decide early on what line of management you wish to pursue. Just as academic specialisms are varied, an extremely wide range of roles now comes under the broad heading of ‘management’. Managers can be financial specialists, legal and IP advisors, human resource managers, policy analysts, operations and strategy planners, research funding managers, teaching and learning specialists, external relations managers, or specialists in alumni relations, internationalisation and external relations, to name just a few possible roles.

  1. Think - part-time, or career track?

The majority of management positions in a university are full-time, career-track management roles from the very beginning. But you may not need to switch entirely to a full-time management role. Universities are unusual institutions in that they operate on a dual-management system of part-time, hybrid academic-managers, alongside career-track managers. Many senior managerial roles in UK higher education are filled on a rotating basis by academics at certain points in their careers as part of their general academic responsibilities. Such roles include Admissions Officer, Director of Research, Director of Teaching, Head of Department, and Head of School.

If your ultimate aim is higher, you need to think beyond your discipline or school, and establish yourself on University-level strategic planning committees, national subject specialist bodies, and if possible, national policy bodies. The most senior academic management roles (PVC, Dean, Vice-Chancellor) are of course themselves full-time roles, albeit with a token allocation of research time, but the route to them is always almost always via an academic career path with evidence of significant institutional managerial, and crucially, strategic experience.

  1. Assess growth areas

But if your sights are set on a career-track management path, you need the bigger picture. Consider the growth areas of UK HE. Such areas include internationalisation (Brexit notwithstanding), transnational education, and external relations more generally. Strategic planning and finance are always areas that need highly skilled managers, and alumni relations remains an important income stream for the sector. Take stock of your academic background. If you are a humanities academic, your linguistic, cultural, and analytical skills would be well deployed in the areas of internationalization, external relations, and policy; if your skills are science and data-based, you might do well in the field of finance, analysis, and strategic planning; if you have technological or IT skills, consider how technology at universities is being developed to drive the student experience, including in areas of social mobility and quality assurance. Break your specialism down into its core skills, and then analyse how these skills might map onto any such growth areas you have identified.

  1. Re-align your skills base

Depending on your level, you may already have had some degree of managerial experience within your unit. In addition, your institution may offer a wide number of professional development courses that can help you build the sort of skills you need for your desired management specialism. But often the best way to enhance your CV and get a fresh perspective on your skills is by stepping outside the institution and looking to external leadership and advanced skills training programmes. Making an investment of your time and money in these is a great way of demonstrating that you are serious about developing a career in high-level university management.

Last but not least: Re-focus your CV

The shape of your CV will depend largely on what category of management position you are applying for. The CV of an academic who aspires to one of the most senior management roles in a university will retain many of the discursive, detailed aspects of the academic CV, listing academic bona fides (publications, research, conferences, evidence of international standing, and so on), as well as providing detailed evidence of managerial expertise.

A career-track management CV, however, will be far more concise and less discursive. Achievements and relevant qualifications should be presented not for their own sake, but with clear indications of the skills they allowed you develop. You will also need to speak the terminology of your target area. So if you have been a languages expert, for instance, talk about your achievements in terms of communication, delivery, and internationalization. Do not list your publications unless they are strictly relevant, or consider presenting them in summary form as evidence of your communication skills. Focus on your experience of team-working and planning, project management, and in particular, financial acumen (budget holding, grant management, etc.).

These steps will help you create a cogent, specific, and above all, convincing narrative of how you understand the importance of management in UK HE today, and what role you can play in it.


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