The values and visions of the professional department head: not so different from the past?

Svein Møthe (Buskerud and Vestfold University College, Kongsberg, Norway)
Brit Olaug Bolken Ballangrud (Buskerud and Vestfold University College, Honefoss Norway)
Bjørn Stensaker (Department of Education, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Publication date: 13 April 2015



The purpose of this paper is to analyze how appointed leaders in Norwegian higher education perceive their role and influence, and their discretion as academic leaders.


The paper applies strategic, cultural and political perspectives on leadership to investigate the understanding and perceptions held by academic leaders regarding their own work. The study applied a qualitative strategy based on a cross-sectional design. The findings are based on semi-structured interviews with 18 purposefully selected academic leaders.


The findings reveal that appointed academic leaders are struggling with traditions and cultures and current governing structures and funding mechanisms on the other. The paper argues that this dilemma limits the potential for academic leaders to instigate change and that leadership perhaps has been overemphasized as a factor driving transformation of higher education.


The paper suggests the heated debates in Norway about whether academic leaders should be elected or appointed has limited relevance for understanding how academic leadership is performed in the actual daily work of leaders. The paper suggest that the current interest in selection of leaders perhaps should be downplayed in favor of a perspective focussing on the cultural factors framing current leadership practices.



Møthe, S., Ballangrud, B. and Stensaker, B. (2015), "The values and visions of the professional department head: not so different from the past?", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 298-308.

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