Career Planning: Head of School

If you’re planning a career in acdemia and want to progress up the ranks, it’s a good idea to do a bit of strategic career planning. In simple terms, this might mean looking at the role that you aspire to and:

  • checking what they look for at that level or in that context
  • assessing (honestly!) which of the skills or how much of the knowledge that you already possess and
  • coming up with an achievable plan to help you to fill in the gaps.

This is the basic approach that we take in the Strategic Academic Career Planning sessions to help researchers to plan the next step in their academic careers (usually a lectureship of some kind). But this approach might also be applied to academic positions a bit further up the promotions ladder so that you can begin to position yourself as a credible candidate for those roles.

Perhaps the most obvious next (administrative) step for a lecturer or Principal Investigator is Head of School. Below, then, is the person specification for appointments to Heads of School (in the Humanities) in Manchester:

Head of School: Person Specification (Humanities)

Candidates must be able demonstrate that they meet the requirements of this person specification in order to be considered for the role of Head of School:

Organisational Leadership

1)     Strong commitment to the goals and vision of the University.

2)     Creates a sense of unity and common purpose.

3)     Manages change effectively.

4)     Actively works to build teams and effective working relationships.

5)     Looks beyond the boundaries of the School in promoting interdisciplinary working.

Academic Grounding

1)      A personal academic standing which commands the respect of colleagues within the School, Faculty, University and externally.

2)      A strong commitment to promoting excellence in teaching and research within the School.

Personal Qualities

1)     Thinks strategically, and gains the agreement of colleagues to strategic decisions.

2)     Honest and open, high level of personal integrity.

3)     Effective communicator.

4)     Consults with colleagues at all levels on a regular basis, and listens.

5)     Knows when to take advice.

6)     Builds effective partnerships with staff.

7)     Well organised and committed to getting the job done.

8)     Firm but fair in tackling difficult management issues.

9)     Strong personal commitment to equality and diversity in education and employment.


1)     A proven track record in a management role is a requirement.

2)     Previous experience as a Head of Department or School (or an equivalent academic unit) would be an advantage.


1)    Satisfactory completion of Headstart or a similar leadership programme before taking up office, or possession of a recognised management qualification is a requirement.

Clearly, some of these attributes come from experience and time served as an academic (eg the appropriate ‘academic standing’) but there are also a number of interpersonal and management skills that researchers can begin developing as part of their PhD or Research work. And doing so places you in a strong position to demonstrate a long-standing “commitment” to certain values, approaches and ideals when the time comes to make an application. For example, some of the Faculty training workshops that took place last year (including ‘Skills for Mentors and Manangers’, ‘Understanding yourself and others’ and ‘Working positively with others) would give you a grounding in understanding and using different peoples’ strengths, as well as appreciating diversity and showing a commitment to equality.

Not only might these sessions help you to work in tems in the short term (or to understand why you find that particular colleague so annoying), but might also help to lay the foundations for your future career aspirations. They might also help you to find more enjoyment in academia as a recent Inside Higher Ed Post explains:

So, although research publications are clearly key to progressing up the academic career ladder, it’s worth bearing in mind that, when you reach a certain level, everyone’s going to have a great publications record. That’s precisely the point at which your other skills, knowledge and expertise will make a real difference.

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