II.3. Management Style

A management style usually describes how an administrator makes decisions. The department chair's management style will be shaped by three key factors beyond individual personality traits: the scope of responsibilities assigned to the chair, the relative authority and power that accompany the chair's position, and NIU's tradition of faculty governance.

Because department chairs are appointed by their college deans and the provost, they are accountable to these administrators for all aspects of the daily operation and the professional development of their departments. With those responsibilities comes a modest degree of formal authority to direct resources or to enforce the policies and practices of the university and college. In addition, however, a chair has position power related to the distinction of being the chief academic officer of his or her department (Hecht, Higgerson, Gmelch, and Tucker, 1999). This power carries a measure of influence not only within the department but also with people external to the college, over whom they have no formal authority. In this regard, a chair can affect faculty development opportunities across the university as well as within professional associations. A third type of power is informally earned by the chair on the job through effective interpersonal skills, consistent credibility, transparent decision-making, and the ability to communicate to faculty how the institution works and to apply that knowledge to promote the best interests of the department (Holton, 2006). This sort of power may be the most important resource at a chair’s disposal to shape department culture, guide department dialogue, and nurture a vision for department development. Key to a chair's successful leadership, however, is the ability to balance position power with engaged faculty governance.

The long-standing tradition of faculty governance stipulates that faculty share predominantly in all policy decisions that involve the faculty personnel process, curriculum, admission, and academic standards (see NIU's Constitution and Bylaws; also AAUP: Governance of Colleges & Universities.) This shared governance is the foundation of the dual track personnel process and departments standing committees. In practical terms, effective faculty governance requires effective leadership from the chair to keep faculty members well-informed and to facilitate the making and interpretation of policy in ways that encourage the faculty's full participation and investment in the decisions and responsibilities of the department.

Departments will vary in their expectations of the chair's exercise of final authority. Some faculty members may prefer to have the chair make most decisions, while others will seek regular faculty involvement. In addition, some decisions mandate faculty involvement, such as curriculum changes and personnel decisions, while others do not. There is no magic formula; the best approach is a style of open communication and as much transparency in decision-making as possible.


Last Updated: 8/3/2009