Leadership and professional competencies: Serving higher education in an era of change

David M Smith, University of Pennsylvania


Higher education faced increasing pressures on many fronts during the 1990's. Fiscal problems grew as public funding decreased and students struggled to pay high tuition rates. The demographic distribution of students shifted as more adults, women and minorities joined the ranks. The marketplace expanded in response to a rapidly changing, technological society. The employer-employee relationship changed as continual restructuring created a climate where lifelong employment with one employer was no longer likely. The public trust in higher education decreased as people began to demand of higher education more efficiency and greater productivity. In order to respond to these challenges, colleges and universities need to be adaptive and open to change. There are barriers within higher education to dramatic change, at structural, cultural and personal levels. Strong, capable leadership is needed on campuses; both in formal leadership roles as well as with the professional cohort who represent the core of typical college administration. Leaders and professionals need to be able to utilize a full set of integrated competencies in their positions, competencies being defined as individual characteristics needed to be successful. The purpose of the study was to identify the specific competencies needed by administrative leaders and professional staff working within a highly changing environment. Data collection involved interviews with leaders representing a broad group of departments and functions at the University of Pennsylvania. The interviews gathered information in two areas: managerial perspectives relative to how people experienced working within a highly demanding, change-oriented system; and key competencies needed to succeed within that environment. Analysis of the data generated two competency models for working successfully within college administration: the Leadership Competency Model and Professional Competency Model. Each model has a diverse but interrelated set of competencies that fall into different clusters that share some common attributes: Leadership, Building & Managing Relationships, Cognitive, Personal Responsibility and Fundamental Skills Clusters. Individuals who integrate competencies from these clusters will position themselves well to respond effectively to change forces impacting higher education.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration

Recommended Citation

Smith, David M, "Leadership and professional competencies: Serving higher education in an era of change" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9963096.