Being keen for an administrative role is often held with suspicion by academics - much less any inclination toward an administrative career track. And yet, many high functioning faculty find themselves well-suited to their leadership experiences and wonder how they might do more. In fact, academic institutions and disciplines thrive only because of this inclination, however ambivalently held. For those pondering possible administrative trajectories, here is a brief summary of the options divided into two categories: motivations for leadership and types of administrative roles.
Making a Difference
"Influence and efficacy, that's my addiction - knowing that I can get something done." For many faculty administrators there's an efficiency in being in a role that is able to change things, fix problems, respond to needs. For those who find themselves aware of the need for change whether or not they have the capacity to do anything about it, the alternative to leadership is an endless stream of frustrations (more endless and more frustrating than those actually found in a leadership role).
Filling an Institutional Need
Sometimes the primary motivation for a given leadership decision is driven by an external need - and the possibilities are varied. Faculty agree to administrative roles in order to shepherd a specific vision, advocate for a vulnerable population, create a bridge from one steady state to another, be a voice of/for diversity, carry out a difficult but necessary change, and more.
Laying a Foundation
Administrative experience provides an immense amount of education about the institution and a set of networks and connection that can open new possibilities. For some, upper level administration along more traditional routes (e.g., Associate Dean) can lay a foundation for creating new institutional models that actualize a broader or longer term vision of the academy.
Meeting a New Challenge
While research seldom loses its attraction to faculty, in some fields, research trajectories, or funding situations the terrain becomes well known and the challenges lessen over time. The goals and challenges associated with fulfilling the mission of the university can become the new frontier, drawing on and fostering faculty curiosity and a drive for excellence.