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Eight Essential Competencies for New and Emerging School Leaders/Managers

Brooke Carroll, Ph.D and Jen Cort, LCSW-C

Have you ever known an excellent teacher, one whom everyone loved (students, parents, faculty), who communicated well, facilitated a well-managed classroom, and inspired students? Did that teacher get promoted to a managerial position with oversight of others? And was the transition surprisingly bumpy? Being a good manager requires a set of skills that often aren’t taught or practiced in other roles. We move people into managerial positions because they are good at what they do- and often do not recognize that they will be required to utilize a new skill set for which they are often unprepared.

With today’s changing social, demographic, and legal landscape, schools need leaders with highly developed management skills. Exceptional managers utilize a set of interpersonal, planning, and organizational skills in order to collaboratively and effectively fulfill their responsibilities. Many of these skills are not intuitive or needed in our daily lives, yet can be learned, practiced, and mastered. While these skills are difficult to discern when they are in place, you know when they aren’t there! Through experience, guidance, and research, we have identified eight competencies that we believe are critical for effective management. The majority of these skills are multi-layered and nuanced and take considerable practice to perfect. Nonetheless they can be developed and will enable anyone in a managerial position to be more effective and productive. We describe them briefly here with the hopes that new and emerging managers will further explore each of these topics in order to build upon their own strengths and improve their management practice.

  1. Cultural Competence- The ability to interact effectively, respectfully, and responsively with all people (from all cultures, backgrounds, ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, religions, income levels, education, geographical locations, professions, and family constellations), is important for everyone, but critical for managers. Leaders and managers help set the tone and expectations for a community and can create a culture of inclusion and acceptance (or the opposite) based on their own level of cultural competence. Key elements to developing cultural competence are understanding the ways social identifiers (the labels we give ourselves), power, and privilege impact interpersonal relationships. Developing cultural competence is an evolving, dynamic process requiring time, awareness, and practice.

  2. Community Norm Building- All communities develop norms, traditions, and social expectations, and they can be developed both intentionally or unintentionally. Usually, these norms, traditions, and social expectations are positive and reflect the mission and values of the community. There are many times, however, that norms are created in ways that do not align with a community’s intended purpose. Managers need to be aware of, and be able to influence, the maintenance of positive, aligned community norms, traditions, and social expectations. They also need to be able to influence and change negative community norms, traditions, and social expectations. Understanding the ways community expectations and values are developed and conveyed and the roles that culture carriers and culture creators play are two ways managers can influence community norms.

  3. Communication- Communication skills are important for everyone, and become even more essential for managers. Managers must understand the needs for different kinds of communication within their communities as well as how and when people are most receptive. Effective communication establishes trust, improves efficacy, and sets the stage for growth and improvement within a team. Furthermore, as a manager, there are frequent opportunities to engage in “challenging conversations.” These conversations with peers, parents, supervisors, and supervisees cannot be avoided, and when done well, can be highly productive. Learning strategies for effective everyday communication as well as when the discussion is challenging will help managers to create a more productive, trusting team and will enable them to be more effective in their work.

  4. Personal Work, Time, and Energy Management- Good management of others requires good management first of oneself. Not only do managers need to serve as role models for those they supervise, they have many responsibilities, and need to be good self-managers in order to get it all done! Work, time, and energy management strategies can be intentionally learned and practiced in order to be effectively implemented. Good managers need to be able to:

  5. Manage their work flow: Organize their schedules, calendars, and to-do lists to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency.

  6. Manage their time: Understand how and when their time is used most effectively and avoid time-traps.

  7. Manage their energy: Understand their own energy restorers and depleators and utilize and conserve their energy effectively.

  8. Management of Roles and Responsibilities- Good managers ensure that faculty and staff roles and responsibilities are clearly articulated, well known, and that boundaries are clear. This ensures clarity of expectations, confidence in ability to accomplish goals, and avoids duplication of work and unbalanced workloads.

  9. Responsibilities are those tasks and obligations that are associated with your job. These are typically what are listed in your job description, although many people in education have a long list of “other duties as assigned” that become their responsibility as well.

  10. Roles are assumed or expected behaviors that are associated with a job or a person. Roles can be assigned or unassigned (assumed by the individual) and intentional or unintentional.

  11. Supervision- The word “supervision” does not accurately reflect what we mean in schools; it is so much more than just observation and direction. Managers such as Division Heads, Academic Deans, and Department Chairs provide support, mentoring, coaching, feedback, evaluation, recognition, and discipline to their supervisees. It is rare that these skills are ever taught before they are expected to be implemented. Good “supervision” of teachers and staff requires an understanding of adult learning and motivation, coaching and mentoring, effective performance measures, and strategies for supporting behavioral change.

  12. Delegation- As mentioned, managers have too little time in the day to accomplish all of their responsibilities! Effective delegation is key to managing work and time. Effective delegation is also an important way to support growth in supervisees. Yet many managers don’t know how to “effectively” delegate. Too often they assign tasks with little detail, vague expectations, no plan for follow-up, and then become frustrated when the tasks are not completed to their satisfaction. Effective delegation includes careful planning, clear articulation of specific expectations, and the establishment of detailed timelines for completion. Managers are reminded to be clear about what they are delegating, why they are delegating a specific task to a specific person, how much responsibility they are delegating, and the follow-up communication they will have.

  13. Goal-Setting- The ability to set and achieve goals is helpful in all aspect of personal and professional life. Some of us are naturally good at goal-setting and achieving. Others of us can improve in this area. Managers who are knowledgeable about their own abilities to set and achieve goals and who establish effective methods and strategies for achieving goals are more productive, efficient, and are able to model for and help others achieve their goals.

Moving into a managerial position without supportive training can lead to frustration. Furthermore, tackling all of the eight core competencies at once can be overwhelming. We suggest managers address them one by one with each new step building upon the previous until you sense an increase in your skill set. Good managers are usually created, not born. Spending the time learning about and strengthening these eight essential competencies will enable any manager to be more


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