Go back

Leadership Resources

Here are a few observations regarding leadership in general.  You were no doubt selected as department chair because of your demonstrated ability to lead, so you, no doubt, can produce a better list than what follows.  Nevertheless, we give a very incomplete list of, for lack of a better word, pointers.

As much as possible, acknowledge the contributions of every faculty member. Just because something is their job doesn’t mean that people don’t need to be thanked for doing it well. At APSU, faculty and staff wear many hats, and different people contribute in different ways. Acknowledging the positive contributions of each faculty member will have amazing results in maintaining healthy morale.

As much as possible, get to know the students, and acknowledge and encourage the student leaders in your department. For example, attend if you can events sponsored by your departmental student clubs.  Remember that you are building relationships with your future alums!

Always get the facts. Things are frequently not what they seem. People (faculty, students, staff, administrators) who bring you complaints are usually without guile and are reporting what they truly perceive to be accurate. However, sometimes people bringing issues to you do not have full information or have received incorrect information. 

Interpret the actions of others in the best light that you can. Most people behave in a way that seems reasonable to them in light of their experiences and information. It is possible to disagree with someone about a particular issue without impugning their motives.

Listen -- carefully and without interruption. Sometimes people just need to be heard. Sometimes people coming to you with complaints don’t really expect you to do anything – they just want to be heard.  Is there a contentious issue in the department? Go to the affected parties, ask for their input and just listen.  You don’t have to promise anything. Just listen.

Hold people accountable for their jobs. Specifically, does each faculty member generally meet their classes as scheduled? Two or three times a semester, walk around the building during a peak class time. (That’s all you’ll have time for!) Is there an empty classroom? Check it out. (No one has to know you are checking.)

Deal with problems directly. It is easier to make blanket rules, but these are detrimental to overall productivity. For example, if a faculty member seldom returns graded student work, and students don’t know where they stand, it is easier to make a rule about the number of required assignments than to have a talk with the faculty member. Resist the urge to make a blanket rule – talk to the faculty member.

Be respectful of faculty time. Have an agenda for every meeting, to include time devoted to each issue.  For an issue that will require more than a few minutes at a regular department meeting consider a called meeting dealing only with this issue.

Ask each faculty member, “What can the department chair do to help you be productive?” In a way this is a dangerous question, as you may have to explain to the faculty member that what they request is out of your power. However, you may be surprised to find many requests are relatively small in terms of what it would take to honor them, and yet for that faculty member they are extremely important. Even if you can’t help, the faculty member at least knows you cared enough to ask.

Set a few big goals for yourself as department chair. Every day remind yourself of these goals.  In dealing with the daily tasks and “emergencies” that arise, it is easy to forget the big picture. 

Make sure your department has a few strategic goals to be accomplished within the next three or four years. Ideally these goals will be developed collaboratively by the department and will support your college’s mission and goals and be at least loosely aligned with the current university strategic plan.   Make sure that mechanisms are in place so that each semester the department will make progress on each of these goals.

Take advantage of discipline-specific resources available for leaders of departments. Many of the annual conferences of professional organizations have sessions and workshops for department chairs.  You will learn that the challenges your department faces are not unique, and you will learn strategies for dealing with them.

Take breaks. Take at least one day every weekend when you do not do anything related to Austin Peay, to include checking email.

Delegate where possible and appropriate, after discussing it with your dean. Some department chairs delegate the supervision and evaluation of adjunct instructors.  Some department chairs delegate the preparation of the course schedule, etc.  Play to your strengths, and let others help where they can.  Be aware though, that your workload includes time for administrative duties, and faculty workloads typically do not.  If your department’s Area III (service) criteria does not give credit for administrative duties delegated by the chair, consider suggesting to faculty that this be included in the next RTP criteria revision.

Be very respectful of APSU staff. You will interact with staff in Admissions, Financial Aid, Advancement, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Public Safety, University Facilities, etc. Most APSU staff members are overworked. APSU currently (2019) has the lowest staff to student ratio among all its sister institutions in Tennessee. If you have an issue in a staff member’s area, start with the person with whom you have the problem, not their supervisor.  Do not copy the whole chain of command. They will help you if they can. Be sure to thank staff members with whom you work.


Work with APSU Alumni Relations to stay in contact with your alums. We will talk more about this in a subsequent section.

Participate in the Chair Leadership Program. This is a voluntary professional development program facilitated by an experienced APSU department. More information is posted: https://www.apsu.edu/academic-affairs/faculty/faculty_programs/chair-leadership-program.php

Obviously, many excellent books and articles have been written on leadership in general.   Consider asking an academic leader whom you particularly respect what resources he/she recommends.   Here we highlight just a few resources.

For a quick read with some VERY practical suggestions by an experienced department chair, you will find the following well worth your time:

Ten Suggestions for a New Department Chair, by Michael C. Munger, Chronicle of Higher Education, April 08, 2010.  https://www.chronicle.com/article/10-Suggestions-for-a-New/64963

Books specifically dedicated to chairing academic departments and written within the last twenty years include:

Chu, Don.  2006.  The Department Chair Primer:  Leading and Managing Academic Departments.  Bolton, MA:  Anker Publishing.

Gmelch, Walter H. and Val D. Miskin.  2004.  Chairing an Academic Department.  Madison, WI:  Atwood Publishing.

Gunsalus, CK.  2006.  The College Administrator’s Survival Guide.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.


Because the solving of problems is one of the main reasons to have meetings in the first place, the agenda tends to get stacked with negative items, and participants leave the meeting overwhelmed and discouraged.  Conducting meetings in which creative problem solving takes place, communication is facilitated, and participants are energized is very challenging.  A quick internet search yields hundreds of resources on running meetings, of varying applicability to academic settings.  A few resources which can be read quickly and which are targeted to a university setting are the following:

The Art of Meeting, by Russell S. Powell, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 05, 2010.  https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Art-of-Meeting/64399

How to Run a Meeting, by Gary Olson, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 13, 2010.  https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-to-Run-a-Meeting/66237

10 Ways to Better Manage Your Meetings, by Allison M. Vaillancourt, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 05, 2019.  https://www.chronicle.com/article/10-Ways-to-Better-Manage-Your/247040

Why We Hate our Own Meetings, by Kevin Gannon, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 20, 2017.  https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-We-Hate-Our-Own-Meetings/241233

In addition to the information in the above articles, we offer the following suggestions.

  1. Know exactly what you want to accomplish and so state. This is different from an agenda (which you also need).  “Today I need to let you know about these items from the last college chairs’ meeting, and we need to list our reactions about the proposed policy change so I can communicate them to the Faculty Senate,”  for example.  Or, “Today we need to give our initial reactions to our curriculum committee about their proposed prerequisite changes, and we need to make our final decision on the proposed curriculum change that we discussed in our last meeting.”  In other words, make it clear exactly what the meeting “deliverables” will be.
  1. Prepare an agenda that includes an approximate time for each item, and stick to it. Instead of letting an item go significantly over the allotted time, consider deferring to a separate meeting dedicated only to that item.
  1. For items where consensus is needed and may be difficult to achieve, do some pre-meeting preparation. Meet with affected parties one-on-one and listen to their concerns.  That way you will know what the issues are concerning controversial matters and you will have time to think before the meeting how you can best lead the department to have a constructive discussion and to find workable compromises. 
  1. Do NOT let meetings run overtime. Instead, if more time is needed, schedule a follow-up meeting.
  1. Try to begin and end on a positive note. The beginning of the meeting is a good time to thank people and acknowledge their recent achievements. At the end of the meeting summarize in a sentence or two what has been accomplished.
  1. Delegate a faculty member to take notes and prepare minutes. (In some departments, the Academic Assistant takes meeting minutes.  Other departments prefer to have a faculty member perform this task.)

Again, obviously, there are many published resources, workshops and conferences. Expertise at APSU can be found in the Department of Leadership and Organizational Administration and in the Department of Psychological Sciences.   As a department chair you will encounter conflict.  Students may have complaints regarding faculty (more about this in a subsequent section), and faculty often disagree with each other.  Some practical advice for chairs can be found in the following articles:

The Conflict Management Tool Kit, by Patricia L. Price and Scott Newman, Inside Higher Ed, Feb. 20, 2015  https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2015/02/20/advice-department-chairs-managing-conflict-essay

The Three Rs of Conflict Management for Department Chairs and Faculty, by Walter H. Gmelch and James B. Carroll, Innovative Higher Education, Springer, August 2013.  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00889655