by Lindsay Curtis
Think back for a moment to how you felt during your first trimester as a new faculty member. Did you feel excited, nervous, and perhaps a little overwhelmed? Now, you’re a seasoned faculty member with a lot of experience under your belt, and you’re ready to make the move from faculty to administration. And once again, you may be feeling excited, nervous, and perhaps a little overwhelmed.
Though it may appear to be a seamless move to make, the transition from faculty to administration comes with its own set of challenges. It calls for a shift in your perspective and responsibilities. How your colleagues view you is likely to shift, too. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your transition from faculty to administration.
People are your most important resource
No matter what your official title is, your job as an administrator is about people. “Your work should be about improving students’ lives, employees’ lives, and possibly residents’ lives—especially if you are at a community college,” says Dr. Bryan Reece, who has worked as an academic administrator at various levels for over a decade.
As a faculty member, you were self-reliant and may not have worked with your institution’s staff directly. In an administrative role, you’ll need to lean on others (staff) more often to get things done. “Your greatest resource is the people who report to you or work with you,” Dr Reece says. Getting them to participate in problem solving and work together in implementation will generate great success. As a team you can develop brilliant solutions and move with great momentum.”
Flexibility is required
Making the transition from faculty to administration will have an impact on your schedule and, surprisingly, this may be one of the more challenging aspects of the transition. As a faculty member, you likely had a lot of autonomy and made your own schedule. As an administrator, people will want to know where you are and how to reach you during every working hour of the day. Be prepared for interruptions, unexpected meetings, and many “just need a minute of your time” requests.
You’ll also be expected to attend events held by your institution regularly on evenings and weekends. It is important that you have a lifestyle that allows for irregular hours and travel, if your role calls for it. Flexibility is key as an administrator.
Your perspective will change
As faculty, chances are you were more “in the weeds,” working directly with students and/or focusing on your research. Transitioning to administration means your perspective will shift into more of the “big picture” mode.
“Your viewpoint and position on things change as you sit from a different vantage point as an administrator,” says Sandra Mohr, Dean of Academic Resources and Administration at the New England College of Optometry. “Understanding the cultural and political environment is important as an administrator.”
This shift in perspective is one of the benefits of working in administration, says Mohr. “I love administration and have had the opportunity to work through so many different projects and activities on campus that I would never have been able to do as a faculty member. As admin, your reach and impact on campus will change.”
You’re now the voice of your institution, not just your own voice
As an administrator, your opinions may no longer be viewed as just your own. You’re now the voice of your institution, and it’s important to keep this in mind as you conduct yourself in your day-to-day interactions. As a faculty member, you may have been able to “throw out” ideas in brainstorming sessions, and these were seen as your own thoughts and opinions. This may not be so as an administrator. It’s important to be clear and make the distinction between when you’re voicing your opinion, making a suggestion, or communicating a decision.
No matter how far down on the institution’s totem pole you are, you are no longer “just” speaking for yourself. You are now part of “The Administration,” and people will have different expectations of you.
Learn to be the boss
A big part of your job as an administrator is making decisions, and you may not be able to please everyone. You will likely find yourself in a position where you have to make a difficult—and sometimes unpopular—decision, and then stand by that decision as the dissenting opinions roll in. Learn to get “okay” with not pleasing everyone all of the time, and instead focus on the process and what decisions are best for your institution’s mission, vision, and community.
Tip: When leading committees, be sure to seek input from others. This will help you get their support and buy-in when it comes time to make important decisions.
Be a mentor
As an administrator, part of your duties—whether formally or not—will be acting as a mentor for faculty. You likely benefited from the wisdom and advice of administrators during your faculty years, and now it’s your chance to “pay it forward” and take a junior faculty member under your wing. You’re already an engaged university citizen, so use some of your time and energy to build and nurture new relationships with your colleagues, peers, staff, and junior faculty. Don’t just focus on being an academic superstar—let your new peers get to know you on a personal level, too.
Making the transition from faculty to administration is an exciting time, but can also be bittersweet. Chances are, you’re going to miss some of the things about faculty life, such as working directly with students.
As with most transitions, this one will require a lot of energy and mental bandwidth until you adjust to your new role. Set your mindset to a positive one, be willing to ask for help when you need it, and be gentle with yourself as you learn the ropes. As an academic, you know that learning is a lifelong process. Your first goal in your new position should be to learn as much as you can about your new responsibilities and how to execute them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and enjoy your new role!
About the author:
Lindsay Curtis is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Canada, where she also works as a Communications Officer for the University of Toronto. She writes about higher education, healthcare, research, parenting, and LGBTQ issues. She spends her spare time tending to her indoor plants, cycling, and volunteering for hospice. Learn more about Lindsay at www.curtiscommunications.org or follow her on Twitter: @LindsayWrites_