How to strengthen leadership skills in university

university leadership

Leadership in higher education institutions is a strange and problematic issue. This is due to that the leadership problem is not stand alone. Leadership in university is related to various things, especially intertwined with the demands for service quality. At the same time, university is faced with the problem of resource limitations, but must still implement the policy of expanding access as a consequence of the paradigm shift of university from elite to mass. The demand for quality is also very much related to the face of an organization. Quality is also often referred to as a way of life for organizations. 

A simple question that can be asked here is how the path that must be taken by university in order to improve quality, with various limitations of resources it has, and thus also encourage the establishment of pride (sense of pride) towards the institution. Or in clearer language it can be said to be a strong desire to be the best – a passion for excellence. One of the key points is strong institutional leadership.

Clark (1998) stated that the strengthened steering core – university leadership – is needed for the realization of an entrepreneurial university, in addition to strengthening academic quality (academic heartland), the development of phery-phery in order to expand the partnership network, diversify the financing base and institutionalize the entrepreneurial culture.  Strong steering core will be able to overcome various obstacles and changes faced by university, especially in terms of institutional governance (Good University Governance). Although, Shattock (2004:97) reminded that good university governance is not a guarantee of university success but effective governance that is congruent with an institution’s aim, objectives and culture can make a significant contribution to it..  Effective university governance is built on a tested and visionary pattern of collective leadership. Only with strong leadership and management can university’s vision and mission be realized.

In today’s ever-changing environmental conditions – often even turbulence – and in the efforts of good university governance, strengthening steering core is intended so that university leadership is able and dare to carry out various reforms when it wants to bring the institution in a better direction. Reforms that need to be done are competitive-driven reforms, financial-driven reforms, accountability-driven reforms, and equity-driven reforms. These four reforms must be implemented simultaneously and continuously. Nevertheless, the thorny challenge that the leadership must face in implementing the reform is the rapid resistance of the pro status quo group (not wanting changes that interfere with the comfort of the group). The courage to implement these reforms also often clashes with excessive regulation and bureaucracy.

Reform will be successful if the leadership considers that institutional management is more than just the management of a group of individuals in university.  Like leadership, institutional management reform must be distributed to all institutions.  If not, then the management reform will only stop at the highest level of university management consisting of only a small number of university leadership members, such as: Rector, Dean, and senior administrative staff.  Reform policy must reach the level of study program as the vanguard of university. Institutional management reforms that are implemented consistently, will be able to overcome various problems, such as: changes in the behavior of university citizens against various external pressures, their understanding of the mission and objectives of the institution, confidence in their ability to know the situation, overcome risks, and make decisions quickly will have a great influence on university’s ability to continue the momentum of reform and achieve success.  The four reform policies will be successfully implemented if the university leadership pays attention to the following skills:

First, the leader of university must establish himself as a vision for the institution. He must master the inside out, explicitly, of the vision and mission of the institution he leads. A university leader is a person who must understand the most, understand the deepest spirit related to various messages, missions, contained in the vision of the institution that has been formulated together.

Second, university leaders must have a clear commitment to improving the quality of every university citizen and the quality of the institution (quality of lecturers, quality of administrative staff, quality of teaching and learning process, quality of facilities and infrastructure). A clear, bright commitment is the main capital for quality improvement.

Third, university leaders are also highly required to have sufficient skills and skills in communicating, developing communication, carrying out interactions with clear message quality, bright. It is a tragedy that a university leader does not have the required ability. It could be that many things happen in the university environment, which are not understood by stakeholders or by university residents, because the quality of the message conveyed is very inadequate. 

Fourth, the head of university must act as a leading development staff. Many problems arise within the university management because the university leadership is allergic to staff development. University leaders, especially at universities that are in the second or third tier positions in the mapping of university institutions, often do not have enough awareness for staff development. 

Fifth, the university leadership must initiate what is referred to as a no blame culture. There is a lot of response given by university residents to a policy with disgruntled feelings. University staff feel they ‘do not have’ the policy, although sometimes they are involved in the policy-making process. A culture of protest, dissatisfied when a decision has been made, is often something naïve in university institutions that uphold rationality, academic debate and the search for truth. University leaders should stop such ‘a blame culture‘. Restore collegial culture, academic culture, on a foundation of rationality, so that every policy is not countered by people who do not actually have ‘authority’ in the region.

Sixth, the university leadership must be able to build an effective team work. A team work that can be the ‘engine’ of the organization’s driving force. A team work that can translate the university’s vision and mission into real activities, so that that vision and mission “work”. 

Seventh, university leaders must hold regular meetings in order to build a network of partnerships with stakeholders. So that they know what the demands of quality, needs, changes from the stakeholders.

Eighth, the university leadership must also function as a person who can lead innovative work.  He must be able to act and make policies that are based on innovative works. Therefore, to be able to innovate, lead innovation, university leaders must be equipped with the understanding that every regulation, rules of the game is not something that is final.

Ninth, university leadership must be able to act as a person who is able to develop skills in conflict resolution, problem solving and developing mediation or negotiation.  Mediation skills to resolve conflicts become very important so that tolerant attitudes can be more upfront than conflicts or polemics that are often not so clear the benefits.


Clark, B.R. (1998) Creating Entrepreneurial university: Organizational Pathways of Transformation. : IAU Press. Paris 

Shattock, Michael  (2004) Managing Successful Universities,Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press, UK.

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