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Leadership work among senior faculty in Swedish universities: Reinforcing administrative control, redefining collegiality
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.), Organization and management.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4663-9913
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.), Organization and management.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5479-2563
2019 (English)In: Proceedings of the 18th International Studying Leadership Conference: Putting Leadership in its Place, Bristol: University of the West of England , 2019, p. 62-64Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In this paper we analyse department-level collective leadership work processes in Swedish universities. Drawing upon a notion of leadership work as co-constructed by many organisational actors in interaction (Bolden et al, 2009; Crevani et al, 2010; Denis et al, 2012; Endres & Weibler, 2017), we show how leadership work among senior faculty increasingly:

  • Becomes concerned with administrative/regulative issues. Our respondents describe how meetings, tasks distributed to ad hoc teams, committee work etc., become increasingly time-consuming and mandatory to partake in. This leadership work also becomes increasingly focussed on receiving and handling administrative issues referred to them by central university bodies, or on the formulation and implementation of internal regulations.

  • Revolves around short-term solutions to eternal problems. Many of the structural issues in the university sector – e.g. under-funding, research-based meritocracy despite heavy teaching loads, expectations on both basic research and societal impact – are acknowledged and subject to continuous attention at department level. However, they are usually translated into short-term problems to be resolved in one or two years, resulting in simplistic ’quick fixes’ and projects whose time horizons usually tend to coincide with national budgetary periods or terms of office for senior managers. Moreover, these quick fixes and projects are rarely coordinated with each other, which from time to time results in ’project overload’ and goal conflicts.

  • Becomes concerned with systems for surveillance and control. Most handling of administrative and regulative issues tend to revolve around the perceived need to make academics report their work contents, performance and whereabouts in more detail, and to prescribe how various work tasks shall be carried out and how decision- making shall happen. Leadership work rarely deals with notions of trust, professional freedom or work satisfaction, but rather with constructing academics as in constant need for further surveillance and control.

  • Builds on shaming and blaming of individuals and groups. Following the focus on surveillance and control, the onus is always on the individual academic to live up to all sorts of expectations and adjust to new regulations and change projects. Very few, if any, are seen as delivering upon all these expectations – instead, the shaming and blaming of individual academics and groups for failing to achieve this or that tend to be part and parcel of everyday management. In the end, virtually everyone can be seen as problematic in one way or the other and in equal dire need for further regulation, surveillance and control. The social worth of successes (top-cited publications, major grants) are passing, while the burden of alleged failures linger.

This discussion is based in a qualitative study of senior lecturers employed at business administration departments at four different Swedish universities (n=45). Most of them are involved in leadership work at their respective workplaces, either through formal roles such as head of department, director of undergraduate studies, etc., or through informal involvement in task groups, inquiries, committees and boards. The study was originally undertaken to investigate performance-based funding systems (PBFS) and their impact on academic professional identity construction processes. Leadership work appeared to be central for our understanding of these processes, in the sense that the daily practicing of PBFS’ involves construction of organisational direction, issues, spaces of action etc (Crevani, 2018).

The consequence of the above leadership work processes is that leadership work becomes increasingly irrelevant to daily teaching and research activities and at the same time increasingly time-consuming and central for involved senior faculty. The growing centrality of this particular form of leadership work in the daily life of faculty is self-reinforcing, both due to the content of work (which constantly calls for further decisions, adjustments and remedies) and to growing expectations on senior faculty to perform precisely this sort ’organizational responsibility’ and ’collegiality’ instead of withdrawing into their own teaching and research. Not only are formal managers in the ’chain of command’ pursuing this kind of leadership work, it is also colonising and redefining notions of collegiality and citizenship amongst senior faculty in general. This research builds upon, and adds to earlier similar studies on leadership work in Academia (Macfarlane, 2005; By et al, 2008; Bolden et al, 2009; Clarke & Knights, 2015; Crevani et al, 2015; Kallio et al, 2016; Bristow et al, 2017; Chatelain-Ponroy et al, 2018; Ekman et al, 2018; Spence, 2019; Svedberg Helgesson & Sjögren, 2019).

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Bristol: University of the West of England , 2019. p. 62-64
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Business Studies; Industrial Economics and Management
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-264846OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-264846DiVA, id: diva2:1375110
Conference
18th International Studying Leadership Conference
Funder
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, FSK15-1059:1
Note

QCR 20191210

Available from: 2019-12-04 Created: 2019-12-04 Last updated: 2019-12-10Bibliographically approved

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