Faculty who become chairs and directors are often drawn from the ranks of overachievers. While having no limits can be stressful for a regular faculty member, it can render a department administrator ineffective and have negative repercussions for department growth and well-being. This section addresses some of the personal issues that confront department chairs, with a few suggestions for what to do and what not to do.
- Network. The transition from faculty member to administrator can leave the new chair feeling cut-off as former friends and colleagues shift their perceptions and expectations. This distancing is accentuated by the reality that chairs have information and a degree of influence and power that are not available to regular faculty. To avoid becoming isolated, it is important to develop collegial relationships with other administrators, especially those with whom a degree of confidentiality can be maintained. Sharing war-stories and problem-solving strategies can be essential for keeping the demands of the job in perspective.
- Avoid living on red alert. As the leader who is responsible for the well-being of the department and its members, the chair can be vulnerable to a limitless flow of requests, many of which come packaged with the expectation of an immediate response. Learn to identify genuine emergencies. There is more to the job than can be finished neatly at the end of the day, or week, or semester. It is critical to pace work demands and plan ahead for deadlines that may cluster at certain junctures in the academic year.
- Manage expectations. Depending on the characteristics of the department, what a chair can accomplish in terms of professional development may be limited. It is quite difficult to be present in the department five days a week, teach one or more courses every semester, and maintain a steady pace of scholarly activity. Set priorities and plan on some work time away from the department to stay current with teaching or research or service to the profession. These activities can be rejuvenating as long as they do not add to an already full work schedule. Be willing to re-evaluate priorities, if necessary.
- Learn to juggle. Much of the work day will involve putting out administrative fires while the to-do list lies neglected on the desk. Interruptions are part of the job description. To be effective and efficient, plan the flow of the work day. If it is not possible to be sequestered in the chair’s office to concentrate on a large project, develop the ability to multi-task through smaller responsibilities and chip away at the more demanding projects in the quiet of early morning or the late, late afternoon.
- Take breaks. Administrators have vacation days. Use them. The same rule holds for sick days; ill or injured chairs are less effective. The best defense against burn-out is to avoid exhaustion. Schedule time during which you are away from your phone, your computer, and access to email. If you can’t get away, learn relaxation techniques that you can do in the office.
Contact Employee Assistance Program for tips and suggestions on self-care and support services available.