Being visible and accessible are two simple ways a campus administrator can show appreciation for faculty and staff.

How administrators can give campus staff what they need

Being visible and accessible are two simple ways to show appreciation for faculty and staff

We all know that administrators have busy schedules. They and their assistants often comment on the number of meetings and events that they have scheduled on their calendars. Administrators are known for having long hours. Getting in early and staying late are common for administrators. However, the “busy administrator” may not be the best approach to leadership as we emerge from COVID and move into whatever our “new normal” may be. 

First, the issue of busy is no different from the “there is no money for that” approach to leadership.  Nearly every educator can remember at least one time when some project, set of materials, new technology, or additional staff were identified as a great idea, but there was “no money available” for the project. Except for those schools or districts that were literally bankrupt, there is always money. It is a matter of setting priorities. Budgets are simply a fiscal method of setting priorities. So, sadly, “there isn’t any money for X” is a potentially polite way of saying, “that is not an institutional priority.”

A more honest approach might be to ask staff to make recommendations as to where to cut if the new ask was to be added to the budget. Most understand budgets are finite, but sometimes there are ways to reduce costs to include new projects.  

In the same way, administrators who are not able to schedule time to meet with faculty or staff are stating their priorities. Many have worked with the administrator who is happy to chat with you at an event while looking around to see if there is someone more important to chat with and then quickly ending the conversation when such a person appears.

Scheduling is the same process. One of the simplest ways to provide access to staff is to schedule open door or drop-in hours in the same way faculty schedule office hours for students. Providing at least a few open hours for faculty each week sends the message that an administrator is available for faculty and staff. Alternatives can include providing sack lunch times, coffee and donut times, or similar venues on a regular basis. One provost used to host a lunch every other week for any interested parties on a predetermined topic. These could be done virtually for those working in remote situations as well in traditional settings.  

Colin Powell made a strong impression when he was asked by one of my fellow junior officers to speak at an event. Powell was asked in part as a role model for the black officers. Although Powell was unable to attend, he sent a note back to my fellow lieutenant with a list of other senior black officers he thought would be good speakers for the event and offered to ask them on our behalf. That was an excellent way of saying no. It is better than simply saying no or informing you that their assistant will get in touch “if there is room in my schedule.” As one administrator responded, her job is simply to respond to emails and messages. Effective administrators need to make sure that those they lead are heard and feel they have a clear channel to communicate their concerns and desires to leadership.  

Visibility is an important leadership tool as well. There are those administrators who are happy to show up for photo ops, but don’t stick around afterward to chat with the community. It is important for leaders to be visible, particularly when there is not a crowd expecting them. Intentional visibility by walking around through offices, in classroom buildings, and throughout campus is a great way to show concern and get a firsthand view of how things are going. Greeting students at the schoolhouse door the first few days of classes is a great way to be visible. Joining students or staff for lunch in the cafeteria is another good way of being accessible to folks on campus. Visiting department meetings can be useful as well to better understand faculty concerns. At events, mingle informally instead of only being present for the formal portion. One dean makes sure they have bobby pins, safety pins, and such to make sure they can help address any list minute wardrobe issues at commencement. That sets her apart from the others on stage. Students and faculty know she is there to help. When visiting classrooms, I would often ask if there was anything the teacher needed. It wasn’t uncommon to for me send post it notes, dry erase markers, and other basic supplies to those teachers who had requested such simple supplies. 

Time is the most important thing for administrators to give to their faculty and staff. Beyond time itself, administrators need to show sincere appreciation for those who work for them. Being visible and accessible are two simple ways to show appreciation. Most people will work harder for those who are viewed as appreciative. We all know administrators have packed schedules, but helping their schedule by empowering people and hearing their stories and daily experiences will improve both their leadership and potentially the span of their impact. 

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Steven M. Baule, Ed.D., Ph.D.
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