Competencies for effective leadership in higher education

Marion Spendlove*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose - The purpose of this research is to set out to investigate the role of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Rector, or Principal of a university, and the competencies (attitudes, knowledge and behaviour) that are needed for effective leadership in higher education. Design/methodology/approach - Semi-structured interviews were held with Pro-Vice-Chancellors at ten UK universities representative of the sector. Findings - Most respondents perceived that academic credibility and experience of university life were crucial for effective leadership in higher education, and continued with their research and teaching activities alongside their managerial roles. People skills, including the ability to communicate and negotiate with others, were also felt to be important. Most universities in the study had no systematic approach for either identifying or developing leadership skills. Research limitations/implications - Although this was a relatively small study, the research highlights the need for a more proactive approach to identifying leadership competencies and developing leadership throughout universities. Originality/value - The effective leadership and management of universities is a crucial issue for policy makers, leaders themselves, and for university staff. The research shows that university leadership is fundamentally different from leadership in other contexts, and demands additional competencies. It adds to debates about whether leaders in higher education should be academics, or professional business administrators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-417
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Management
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2007


  • Academic staff
  • Competences
  • Leadership
  • Universities


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