the obscure nature of the leadership. These
challenges effect how people act in the role.
A survey among 90 academic program di-
rectors (APD) in Australia [ 5] revealed that
…APDs were found to focus signifi-
cantly more on ‘the people issues’ …
than on ‘getting the job done’ … and
significantly less on monitoring their
programs… . In addition, APDs re-
garded as significantly more import-
ant ‘the people issues’ … and ‘getting
the job done’ … and significantly less
important implanting changes … and
monitoring their programs … .
Many of them also considered their role
as ‘career killer’ and wanted to exit it as soon
as possible. The authors concluded that “if
APDs are to take the leadership role seriously they need to know that it will be recognized in the promotion and performance
management systems.” The conclusion is
obviously targeted to university leadership
who define personnel career policies.
I had an interesting opportunity to be
involved in small-scale research concerning power issues in program leadership.
In our research, we investigated program
leadership practices in several universities
in Nordic countries, and found quite differ-
ent policies [ 2, 3]. For several universities,
academic program leaders could act only
through personal activity, i.e., they had
only informal power. Only in one univer-
sity was basic funding coordinated by
an academic program leader, who made
agreements with departments about orga-
nizing courses for the program. While such
a strong formal power seemed a promising
idea from the leadership point of view,
the leader felt that communicating with
several departments and several dozens
of teachers squeezed the leadership into
plain management where personal involve-
ment and contacts to the actual education
development were narrow.
The challenge of having only informal
power is, of course, that one’s success depends heavily on personal communication
and negotiation skills. One faces challenges
like how to coordinate the work of independent faculty so that they will work
together? How to get people engaged in
program and course development? How to
negotiate and find agreements on changes in curricula, teaching and assessment
methods, including building graduate
attributes? Should one take the role of
active developer, facilitator for change, or
only let the curriculum and its implementation develop organically and restrict one’s
actions to filling formal requirements only?
We concluded that both extremes—full
formal power and no formal power—seem
problematic. Thus, an interesting question
emerged from our research—what would
be the right balance for formal and informal
power, a balance that gives good results
in a variety of settings? Unfortunately, our
data pool was not large enough to provide
any clear answers.
Neither did we find answers in research
literature to respond to this dilemma. In
their conclusion, Vilkinas and Cartan [ 4] focused heavily on recruitment issues—which
competences are required from an academic program leader—as well as clarifying
the responsibilities, and recognizing the
value of program leadership in promotions.
While these are important points, they do
not, unfortunately, provide much guidance
for the practical work for the academic
program leader. Bryman’s list of principles,
listed above, provides more guidelines, but
his point of view is more focused on formal
power and general leadership.
During the past two years, I encountered
these challenges from another perspective.
I worked as a vice dean of education in
my school, which has several departments,
and provides several degree programs,
including computer science, mathematics,
physics, and some others. One of my tasks
was both to support and direct our academ-
ic program leaders in their work. I started by
interviewing all of them in my school, finding
out that none of them wished to gain strong
formal power. The main argument given was
that if you have full control of teachers in
the program, you also control the personnel
work contracts and that changes your posi-
tion within the community in a radical way.
You become more a manager than an aca-
demic leader and your relation to colleagues
correspondingly changes. This was in line
with our previous finding from another uni-
versity, which provided strong formal power
for its academic program leaders.
What was considered more important
for academic program leaders is summarized in three points.
• First, it is important to allocate clear
development resources to the academic
program leaders. This would allow them
to make independent decisions on development actions without a need to always
negotiate with department chairs.
• Secondly, clarifying their responsibility
and tasks was an obvious need, especially for those who were new in their roles.
• A third important point was that program leadership appeared very different
depending on the scope of the program,
which in our case ranges from some
20 new enrolled students per year to
almost 200 new students a year, with
correspondingly more or less diverse set
of majors, as well as different number of
faculty involved. Obviously one solution
would not fit all programs, and flexibility
on their tasks was important.
All these points, which we implemented,
support the formal power aspect, while
still leaving much emphasis on the informal
power side of their role. These findings fit
our local environment, but they could be
useful elsewhere. It is too early, however, to
evaluate their impact.
The main argument given was that if
you have full control of teachers
in the program, you also control the
changes your position within
the community in a radical way.