What makes a successful college leader?

The strongest college leaders take care of themselves and their colleagues

The most successful college and university leaders share several key similarities in their communication, decision-making, and interpersonal skills, Scott Newman writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Newman, who serves as vice president for academic affairs at the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, shares the values that the most successful college leaders have in common:


University presidents and chancellors take advantage of multiple platforms to engage with employees, students, alumni, and other stakeholders about the visions they have for their institutions. 


College leaders deal with many different people with different goals, values, and concerns on a daily basis. The most successful ones know how to communicate with these different groups while still being genuine.

Good judgment

Many senior administrators tend to keep sensitive information to themselves or speak privately with a confidant. The wise ones know the issues that are best kept among a small circle of trusted advisers.

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Media savvy

Whether casual or formal, successful leaders develop working relationships with members of the media. Even if they do not hand out their phone numbers to journalists, senior administrators must be able to work with the press.

Stress management

High-achieving senior administrators understand the importance of self-care. Some block periods of time specifically for reading, exercising, and other activities that give them a boost of energy.

The ability to prioritize

When juggling so many different demands, it is critical that college leaders know how to prioritize. Some stay focused by monitoring key performance indicators such as analytics dashboards and feedback from staff.

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Political influence

Senior administrators must be aware of their political capital, that is, the influence they hold with various constituencies. College leaders need to track their public perception and should purposely underestimate how much sway they hold.


Exceptional presidents and chancellors understand their obligations to their governing boards and stick to them. They support their colleagues, engage in open communication, and find solutions to problems when they arise.

An understanding of the best fit

When applying for a job, applicants are most concerned with factors such as getting hired by a particular college in a certain region. Those charged with making hiring decisions must be able to find the applicants who would be the best fit for the institution (Newman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/28).

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