Leading reluctantly. Role perceptions of department heads at the School of Business in the context of the dissemination of sustainability meanings

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School of Business | Master's thesis
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Global Management
Middle managers in corporation are routinely responsible for disseminating and implementing new strategic initiatives. Middle managers exist in the academic sector as well, and are called department heads. The difference is that while universities nowadays face intense global competition, which compels both faculty and students to strive for optimal performance, the middle managers in this sphere are academics and researchers themselves, who are not trained in leadership, and rarely wish to lead their fellow colleagues. Thus, department heads face a unique and diverse set of expectations, which affects how they see their role. The focus of the research is the role perception of department heads, and what impacts it has on the approaches of communicating sustainability to their faculty. The objective of the study is to contribute to the limited research on middle managers in an academic context, and identify the diverse perceptions that department heads possess regarding their role, and the effect of these perceptions on how sustainability meanings are communicated at their faculty. To gain deeper insights into the topics of the study and to collect data, 10 past and present department and unit heads from diverse areas from the School of Business are interviewed. The information from the interviews is then thematically analyzed by coding the transcripts, and then categorizing the codes into themes. The present research first recognized that department and unit heads are not clear on what is expected of them regarding their position, and thus, the way they perceive their role in the department’s life differed greatly based on the level of agency and their focus on tasks or relations. Another contribution of this study is connecting these role perceptions with the approach department heads had to communicating sustainability to their faculty, discovering that the level of agency and area of focus at least partly determined whether they communicated the importance of sustainability, or whether they assumed a hands-off approach. While the study contributes to the existing research on department heads’ role perception, expanding the study to other universities and countries could help discover possible best practices for motivating and incentivizing department heads, which in turn could increase the resilience of departments, and thus, universities.
Thesis advisor
Kähäri, Perttu
Koveshnikov, Alexei
middle management, academic leadership, role perception, recontextualization, sustainability communication, sustainability