While skimming a long comment thread elsewhere, I noted Austin Elliott pointing readers to an article, The HoD Delusion (warning: large PDF file) in Physiology News, written by an anonymous (recovering) head of department.
It opens with an anecdote about being a Head of Department (HoD), then examines what the writer considers are the issues facing a incumbent HoD. The opening passage reads,
“It is frequently said, though I forget who started it, that managing academics is like herding cats. My experience, as both cat owner and Head of Department (HoD), suggests that this is grossly unfair to cats; our feline friends tend not to discuss their destination at length, let alone all the ins and outs of if, why, and how they want to go there; nor do they resist change with nearly as much enthusiasm as academics.
Over several years I have realized that becoming a HoD, rather than cat-herding, is more like becoming a parent — for the following three reasons in particular. First, you take it on in addition to your other jobs; second, nothing really prepares you for the reality; and third, you undertake its major responsibilities and possible consequences with little — if any — appropriate training.”
Think of this blog post as a call to both walk in their shoes for a little bit, and to discuss what you think HoDs should do – and not do. Comments from current or previous HoDs are particularly welcome.
One thought* that follows from the quote above is for training, and with that professional managerial support (that is, permanent managerial staff who work alongside the department head proper). I can’t speak from experience on this, but invite others to share their thoughts.
For those unlikely to ever become an HoD, understanding their role may help you work better with them.
* I may add more thoughts in the comments as I find time.
I’ve listed the highlighted points from the article below, but I encourage people to read the actual article as the content is more fulsome, and entertaining, than these headers might lead you to believe.
- Know your objective(s) and act accordingly
- Lead from the front
- Manage your time carefully
- Be accessible
- Don’t judge or act until you have heard both sides of the story
- Say ‘yes’ when you can, but learn to say ‘no’ when necessary
- Do what you believe to be right and fair
- ‘Care but don’t care’
- Say what you think, especially in meetings
- Minimise work that doesn’t contribute to the primary goals of your department
This is apparently part of a larger series, which interested readers might track down. (See footnotes immediately after the end of the article.)
HT: Austin Elliott.
Other articles on Code for life: