5 Tips to Become a Strategic University Leader

Higher Ed Leadership Series

Understanding the Business of Higher Education

Strategic leaders play an essential role in advancing the goals of an organization. In the higher education setting, university leaders are at the forefront when it comes to setting the direction of the school. They are responsible for establishing goals for their department, creating a strategic plan to achieve these goals, and motivating staff to get behind this plan.

As a senior leader, you are expected to know the business of your college or university. What are the short-term and long-term goals for promoting student success, expanding institutional resources, and increasing community engagement? And how will you guide your department to align with these overarching goals?

If you entered the higher ed leadership ranks through your success in academia, the business side of leadership may not come naturally to you. But that’s okay!

Here are 5 tips to help you become a strategic university leader:

  1. Look into large-scale meetings you can attend to gain insight into the university’s business strategies.

Don’t just attend your monthly department meeting and call it a day. Make it a priority to place yourself in the room whenever there is an opportunity to learn more about the institution’s strategic goals and plans.

  1. Read university reports and ask questions on areas that are not clear.

These include financial and operating reports, strategic functional plans, employee surveys, press accounts, and industry reports. Familiarize yourself with the operations of your university, and ask your colleagues or supervisors if you need clarification on any areas.

  1. Talk to those in your network who will be able to share information and provide context around it.

Building your network is the secret sauce to moving up the ranks as a university leader. As a result, you will have more connections and information to leverage to make sure you’re always in the know about important university information.

  1. Consistently communicate the vision and strategy to your team and students.

You want to ensure your department or team has a clear understanding of how they fit into the university’s larger vision. Communicating the “why” in an authentic way will boost engagement, because it will make their work feel more meaningful.

  1. Get comfortable with delegating.

Effective leaders are able to pursue organizational goals with, and through, others. You’re no longer a solo contributor – therefore, it is essential that you learn how to effectively delegate and allow your faculty and staff to own their roles.

Are you looking for additional resources to help you navigate senior leadership in higher ed? Download our free University Leadership Roadmap: 7 Steps to Jumpstart Your Leadership Journey of Women of Color in Higher Ed.

For a more in-depth guide on strategic planning, check out A Practical Guide to Strategic Planning in Higher Education from The Society for College and University Planning.

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