Leading in middle management in higher education

Document Type

Journal Article


SAGE Publications Inc.


School of Education / ECU South West Research Centre




This article was originally published as: Pepper, C. , & Giles, W. (2014). Leading in middle management in higher education. Management in Education, 2014(June), 1-7. Original article available here.


In this article we discuss the experiences of academics who occupy middle-level leadership roles in higher education. We use the term middle management to describe personnel occupying positions below the level of dean and often referred to as associate deans or heads of school. Practitioners rarely turn their attention to their own organizations, and in this study we focus on Australian universities, including our own, and international university experiences. Our study was designed to gather qualitative data via semi-structured interviews, after which our data were crafted into narrative accounts. In answering our research questions, we found that these middle managers perceive their role as overwhelming, with a sense of huge responsibility and little power. They describe their role as reactive, they feel isolated and they enjoy making a difference in others’ lives. Participants acknowledge the importance of developing support structures by building relationships with colleagues.