Middle leadership in higher education: A relational analysis

Christopher Branson, Margaret Franken, Dawn Penney

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    48 Citations (Scopus)


    The paper is informed by a research study exploring middle leadership as experienced by Chairpersons of Departments within one faculty in a university in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is argued that middle leadership in higher education needs to be understood as a highly complex relational endeavour, characterised by compromises that are negotiated amidst leadership structures, hierarchies and relations. The focus on leadership as first and foremost relational provides a frame for critically examining the nature and complexities inherent in the lived reality of middle leadership. Relational leadership is conceptualised as encompassing four inter-related dimensions. These are derived from data and respectively centre on structure and power; trust and credibility; learning; and discursive relations. We suggest that each dimension provides a productive lens through which the complexities and challenges of middle leadership can be explored. Throughout the emphasis is that for middle leaders, the relations that they have to navigate and negotiate are multi-faceted and multidirectional, involving relations up, down and across organisational structures and networks. Middle leaders are shown to be acutely aware that their decisions and the decisions of other staff variously impact upon the context and relations that they are working amidst.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)128 - 145
    Number of pages18
    JournalEducational Management Administration and Leadership
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Cite this