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Effective Leadership Characteristics and Behaviours for Female Department Chairs in Higher Education in Saudi Arabia Open Access


Other title
Higher Education
Department chairs
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Gonaim, Faiza Adil
Supervisor and department
Dr. Frank Peters (Department of Educational Policy Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Dr. Jose L. da Costa (Department of Educational Policy Studies)
Dr. Heather Kanuka (Department of Educational Policy Studies)
Dr. Randolph Wimmer ((Department of Educational Policy Studies)
Dr. Olenka Bilash (Department of Secondry Education)
Dr. Cathrine Lugg (Faculty of Education)
Department of Educational Policy Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Leadership in higher education is fundamental for institutional development and sustainability in today’s rapidly changing world. The academic department is a fundamental unit for transforming the university's visions and goals into reality. In contrast, higher education undervalues administrative positions in general and department chairs in particular, believing that an administrative role is a temporary task. The literature showed that there is lack of leadership consideration and preparation for such critical position. Little investigation has been conducted into effective leadership approaches in departmental leadership in higher education in general and in higher education in Saudi Arabia in particular. Therefore, the overarching purpose of this study was to identify effective leadership practices, characteristics and behaviors that contribute to the effectiveness of female academic department chairs and the challenges that they face. Preparing chairs for the position before they occupy it increases their effectiveness and assists them in overcoming difficulties. After an extensive review of the relevant literature, I decided to use a qualitative approach informed with grounded theory techniques in the present study. The qualitative approach allowed the researcher to obtain deep understanding of the participants’ points of view. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with former department chairs, current department chairs and faculty members. Vignettes were the basis of the faculty members' interviews to avoid any ethical concerns and to allay any fears of repercussion from their department chairs. The findings of the study indicate that effective chairs are distinguished by a combination of skills, knowledge, behaviors and attitudes. They have time management, problem solving, meeting management and people skills. They know their responsibilities, the rules and regulations of their organization, and have knowledge of leadership. Their behaviors and attitudes are characterized by mutual respect and trust, by team building and investing in relationships. They engage people and interact with them, delegate tasks to them, consult, listen, convince and justify their decisions. Working with vision, communicating clearly and walking their talk also distinguish effective chairs. They do not hesitate to ask questions. They are passionate and committed to their work. Furthermore, they are not afraid of change, self-confident and innovative. Patience, flexibility, fairness and being organized are others qualities identified in the analysis. Although leadership in Saudi Arabia is based on a centralized system, the findings demonstrate the tendency toward more collaborative leadership that promotes collegiality and collective interest. Specific recommendations were made to better prepare department chairs for this crucial position in institutions of higher education. The study came at a time when the country is taking significant reforms in women’s issues.  
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