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Communication Skills for Department Chairs

Mary Lou Higgerson, William E. Cashin (Foreword by), Walter H. Gmelch (Introduction)
ISBN: 978-1-882982-13-4
320 pages
August 1996, Jossey-Bass
Communication Skills for Department Chairs (1882982134) cover image


Department chairs are both faculty and administrators, but neither the skills of a faculty member nor the stature of an administrator can alone make an effective department chair. Because department chairs occupy a dual role, it is imperative that they establish and maintain credibility with both the faculty and the central administration. Such a challenge requires strong communication skills.

Communication Skills for Department Chairs is designed as a resource for practicing department chairs. Developed from the author's experience in organizational communication, chairing a department, and conducting workshops for department chairs, this book presents essential communication strategies for successfully managing a department. Each chapter first describes communication skills that are useful in handling administrative tasks and then uses real-life case studies to demonstrate their application in typical situations. Every case study is followed by a series of questions that invite readers to consider alternatives and make decisions that would benefit their own departments.

The book teaches communication skills as well as offers prescriptive guidelines on fulfilling the administrative duties for which department chairs are typically responsible. It helps chairs to

  • Structure a department mission
  • Enhance the department climate and culture
  • Define a code of ethics for the department
  • Conduct performance counseling
  • Manage conflict among faculty
  • Implement departmental change
  • Work with the dean
  • Build important alliances
  • Promote the department

Useful for self-directed professional development or in seminar and workshop settings, this book is a practical and engaging resource for anyone who wants to communicate more effectively with multiple constituents.

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Table of Contents

About the Author.




Author’s Introduction.

Index of Cases by Higher Education Issues and Administrative Tasks.

Part One: Cultivating the Department Culture.

1. Structuring the Department Mission.

2. Enhancing the Department Climate.

3. Defining the Department Ethics.

Part Two: Working with Faculty.

4. Conducting Performance Counseling.

5. Managing Conflict.

6. Implementing Change.

Part Three: Interfacing with External Publics.

7. Working with the Dean.

8. Building Alliances.

9. Promoting the Department.



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Author Information

MARY LOU HIGGERSON brings to this text 20 years of experience that spans every administrative level of multicampus university system. Higgerson holds a PhD from the University of Kansas where she studied and conducted research in organizational communication. Combining her knowledge of communication literature and skills with her administrative experience, Higgerson has focused her writing, consulting, and training activities on the application of communication and management theory utilizing video vignettes and case studies. Since 1990, Higgerson has taught on a variety of topics for the American Council on Education in seminars offered through the Department Leadership Program. Currently a professor of speech communication at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Higgerson teaches courses in organizational communication and the university as an organizational culture. Higgerson has coproduced training videos on communication strategies relevant for higher education administrators and has written articles that have appeared in such publications as The Chronicle of Higher Education, Journal of College and University Personnel Association, Continuing Higher Education review, and The Department Chair. She coauthored a book titled Complexities of Higher Education Administration: Case Studies and Issues, which is designed for formal classroom use, workshops and seminars, and self-directed professional development.
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"… should be standard desk reference for all department chairs. " –  Hecht, Senior Associate, ACE
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