Why would an academic leader listen to me?
You wouldn’t be the first to wonder
Once, while being introduced as the workshop presenter for higher education leaders at a prestigious leadership institute, I overheard someone whisper, “What does she know about academic planning, she works in facilities?” I cringed. A doctorate in higher education administration from a reputable institution and a solid track-record of accomplishments aside, not only was I not a scholar, I worked in facilities at the time.
Having achieved mission-aligned goals in a complex, fast-paced, high-stakes facilities environment absolutely enables me to help academics transform their thinking into actionable goals and concrete outcomes. The expertise needed for forecasting, planning, communicating, coordinating, and pivoting to successfully maintain over $7 billion in physical assets transcends the perceived boundaries of administration, operations and academics.
As Director of Organizational and Professional Development for a major research university and hospital facilities division my job was to help ensure that the organization had the capacity to achieve its mission. I led the collaboration between the associate vice-president and my colleagues on the senior leadership team from operations, engineering, finance, energy, and HR. I facilitated the planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting of a comprehensive strategy to maintain buildings, utility infrastructure, landscape, hardscape and building access.
The work had to be completed according to a plethora of building regulations, safety codes, customer service expectations, timing deadlines, efficiency standards and cost-effectiveness measures. I analyzed and reported on data that were used to obtain funding. I was responsible for ensuring that over 300 employees had access to the training necessary to do their jobs effectively and safely. During my tenure, we achieved an unprecedented number of our short- and long-term goals and received an industry award for our ability to adapt to a major obstacle facing the division. I received recognition for my own leadership in helping to ensure organizational continuity through a crisis.
In addition to work in facilities, I led the successful planning and implementation of a university-wide compliance program that took place over several years in a decentralized organization and which impacted several thousand faculty and staff and each of over 200 departments. It was a mammoth undertaking of navigating competing demands and resources, systems, infrastructure and policy constraints, human transition obstacles, changing legislation, shared governance decision-making debates, technical and IT challenges, inefficient communication systems and diverse stakeholder needs. We succeeded.
Similarly, my role is to help academics ensure there is a collective understanding about the goal(s) at hand, help assess the capacity of the organization to accomplish the goal(s), develop a practical customized plan accordingly, and then to help systematically guide the implementation of the goal(s). At the end of the day, someone has to actually implement something tangible and relevant in a timely and organized fashion to get results. My facilities background provides a vital advantage in the work that I do to help higher education organizations systematically expand capacity to provide equitable access to quality education.