Middle aged teacher in casualwear standing by blackboard in lecture hall and lecturing students. Picture embodies a lesson about administrative appointments.

Dr. Antione D. Tomlin and Dr. Danny M. Hoey, Jr.

As Black men, we come to Academia with a very different lens and perspective on what it means to excel in higher education. As a Dean (Danny) and a Department Chair (Antione), we provide some tips on gaining and progressing in academic administrative positions. While it can seem impossible at times to obtain administrative positions, we offer four essential tips when thinking about your academic career trajectory.

1. Be Able to Articulate Your Leadership Philosophy

As you move towards academic administrative roles that are more complex and nuanced, it is imperative that you have a leadership style that you can clearly articulate and provide concrete examples of–in writing, in an interview, and with those that you hope to lead. Ask yourself these questions: what is my mission, what do I value most, and what is it that I am the most passionate about–and be deeply reflective.

Once you are able to answer those questions, examine the ways in which you lead and see if your answers and your actions match. If your actions in your current leadership role are not consistent with what you discovered about yourself, ask yourself why? Be critical in your reflection—it will help you redefine your leadership style so that it is consistent with who you want to be as an administrator. Also, this exercise will allow you to confidently explain who you are as a leader, how your leadership philosophy inspires, and how it gives those that you lead the confidence to be innovative as they work to achieve desired outcomes.

2. Build Relationships

Learning how to build relationships is pivotal to any administrative role. If the folks that you lead believe you to be untrustworthy, it is less likely that they will follow you and it will be even harder to achieve the goals that you have set.

When you are new to an administrative role, you are the outsider—even if you have come from among the ranks of faculty. It is startling at first; however, do not let that deter you. Roll up your sleeves, develop a thick skin, and proceed as if you are the new kid on the block and work to engender trust from the folks that you lead. This means that you have to be clear and transparent in your communication, be fair, actively listen, advocate for those that you lead while still holding them accountable. And, most importantly, be consistent while doing all of the above.

Once your team sees that you are serious about building with them and not without them, they will trust you, and even if they do not agree with a decision that you make, they will follow you because you all have a relationship that is built on trust and mutual understanding.

3. Find a Mentor  

In order to progress within academia, a mentor is essential. Finding someone who is in the field, who is well connected, and who is blunt and honest with you will only help you. We encourage you to find a mentor with whom you can build rapport and trust. This person will be able to share with you what they see as strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, they will be able to help you align yourself with opportunities that help shape and prepare you for administrative appointments. Furthermore, a major reason for identifying a mentor is to learn from their mistakes.

Administrative appointments are highly competitive, which means there is no time for mistakes that could have been avoided. Talk with your mentor early and often, to ensure that you are on a trajectory that makes sense for what you want to accomplish. So, find a mentor, listen to your mentor, and soak up all the knowledge and wisdom they may have to offer about how to gain that appointment.

4. Develop/Grow Your Transferable Skills  

Often, faculty may not apply for administrative appointments out of fear of not meeting minimum qualifications. When thinking about administrative appointments, it’s crucial to position yourself for the appointment you want early on. That is, finding ways to continue to learn, grow, and take on other duties and responsibilities that would closely align with the position you hope to obtain. Actively seeking opportunities for continuous improvement enhances your chances of being selected as a finalist for an administrative position. Additionally, looking at job postings similar to ones you want can prove to be helpful. Reviewing similar postings allows you to take a temperature of the field. You may also gain tips on how to word and reword your Cover Letter and Curricula Vitae with key phrases and qualifications that make you stand out.

Do you have additional tips to add to the list? Or have specific strategies to help academics gaining or progressing in an administrative position? Please share. Feel free to send your responses via Twitter @TomlinAntione so that we can continue this conversation!

Authors’ Bio:

Antione D. Tomlin

Dr. Antione D. Tomlin earned his PhD in Language, Literacy, and Culture from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and is an assistant professor + Chair of the Academic Literacies Department at Anne Arundel Community College.

Dr. Danny M. Hoey, Jr., is the Dean of Student Learning, Equity, and Success for the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at Gavilan College. He has served in various academic administrative roles and believes that it is his responsibility to give back by mentoring those who aspire to be academic administrators.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.