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The first part of our series discussed tips for new faculty leaders or faculty members turned administrators and how they can successfully work with staff members to onboard into their new roles. This part will discuss the final two areas of focus: culture and structures and systems.


  • Challenge: Learning the culture. Things like daily schedules, preferred communications processes, meeting cadences and overall structures are going to be new to you. For many faculty, this includes shifting to a schedule that matches the staff you manage, like a typical 9-to-5 day/12-months-per-year schedule. 
  • Suggestion: A great first question is to ask what the typical cadence of work is for your team and the staff with whom you work. Post-pandemic, that may also include learning about hybrid and flexible schedules. It is also important to learn about longtime agreements, such as someone working completely from home or someone who needs to leave at 3 p.m. to pick up their kids. 
  • Challenge: Respecting the culture. It can be a challenge to make it clear—both in words and deeds—that the existing culture is a reflection of this community’s best efforts to adopt practices that seem to work well for them. 
  • Suggestion: Acknowledge the importance of the existing culture. Be clear that you do not intend to make drastic changes but are open to suggestions for gradual improvements. Do not constantly reference how things were done in your previous job (Glick, 2006). 
  • Challenge: Creating a culture where everyone can thrive. Now that you have learned the culture, what might you do to enhance it? 
  • Suggestion: Consider how the teaching practices you use to create an inclusive classroom might apply to creating an inclusive work environment. Prioritize the well-being of your team, create clear channels of communication and ways to ensure everyone’s voice is heard, and demonstrate that you are an effective and supportive listener.  

Structures and Systems

  • Challenge: Recognizing—and working within—the pre-existing hierarchy. These roles are often in the middle, representing the interests of your faculty (if you are a department chair) or staff (if you become a vice provost, for example), as well as the more senior leadership who likely have asked you to step into this role.
  • Suggestion: Talk with your new boss and your team to understand who the decision-makers are—real or perceived. Things might look one way on paper but be implemented in an entirely different way in actuality. It is important for new administrators to understand the nuances so that they can support all stakeholders and try to get things done in a way that works within the existing politics of the organization.
  • Challenge: Modifying the structure. While staff currently in place often have a strong sense of what works best, they may have some suggestions, too. Further, since you are entering the environment with fresh eyes, you may observe some areas for improvement.
  • Suggestion: Change does not come easily in academia, but making small, reasonable modifications in response to collective input may well be within your power and end up improving the workflow and dynamic.
  • Challenge: Learning the systems. This is more micro and concrete than some of the other challenges mentioned; it is about the actual systems that are used in the job, like faculty/student information systems, faculty search/review/promotion/tenure systems, HR management/payroll systems, learning management systems and even basic tools like Excel, Qualtrics and Google forms.
  • Suggestion: Learn what systems your teams use for which processes and try to master them as quickly as you can. Ask for one-on-one training sessions. Make edits and updates in the systems yourself once you are comfortable. Look things up yourself instead of asking your team to do it. A major point of frustration for staff working with new faculty managers is that they often do not know how to use the systems—which is totally understandable, at first. Adapting as quickly as possible will go a long way toward earning credibility with your teammates. These systems are not optional extras but rather necessary tools for the everyday operation of the school.

And, of course, we recognize that institutions can do more to help support faculty turned administrators. Onboarding is a perennial problem, and these roles are no exception. It is important that institutions recognize the unique situation these faculty face and actively support them in any way possible.

Recommendations for Institutions

  1. Create onboarding guides to help people learn their roles. These could be developed by the person currently in the role, like a department chair who is rotating off, in conjunction with the staff who will continue under the new person. Here, it is incredibly important to involve staff, since they often know the intricacies of the daily work better than some senior administrators.
  2. Run training sessions. These are critical for success and for getting people up to speed quickly (Morris & Laipple, 2015). Sessions should include things like financial management; working with HR to understand policies related to hiring, firing and managing staff, as well as how to support staff development; learning technical systems such as those for HR management/payroll, applicant tracking systems, student information systems and any institutional databases; and general overviews of institutional priorities.
  3. Prioritize the development of supports and resources for professional development to help new faculty-turned-administrators thrive. This should include topics such as managing compassion fatigue, leading a team, creating an inclusive work culture, being conflict adept, emotional intelligence and building relationships of trust. HR or faculty affairs offices often have tools that can help.

Ultimately, there are always more ways that individuals, offices and institutions can help onboard new faculty turned administrators. We hope that, with some simple suggestions, faculty can be more prepared to jump into these new roles and work with their staff colleagues. Establishing direct, constant communication and feedback loops with your new teams can help head off any potential issues, especially when you are demonstrating respect for the staff and their knowledge.

Jessica Pesce is the associate dean for faculty affairs, development and planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She holds a Ph.D. in higher education from Boston College, an Ed.M. in higher education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, an M.A. in classical archaeology from Tufts University and an A.B. in classics from Brown University. Jessica has served as an adjunct lecturer in higher education at a variety of institutions and is a former high school Latin teacher. Patrice Torcivia Prusko is director of learning design, technology and media at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from University at Albany and an M.B.A. and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Union College. Patrice is a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and was previously an instructional designer at Cornell University and visiting assistant professor at SUNY Empire State University.

In case you missed Part I of this article:

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