Developing Mid-Level Managers

naspa avp steering committee

Shadia Sachedina

October 10, 2017

Developing and mentoring Student Affairs staff should be considered a critical responsibility for any senior level Student Affairs practitioner.  This development goes beyond mere management techniques that requires one to handle supervising the administrative functioning of staff.  What I am referring to here, is creating space and opportunity for Student Affairs Educators, and for the purposes of this writing, Mid-level Student Affairs Professionals, to fully recognize their talent potential, so that they may continue to advance and contribute within the Profession. 

 Mid-level Professionals can be classified as “middle line managers on the organizational hierarchy between those who perform basic services and those who provide vision and direction for the organization” (Mintzberg, 1989).  Rosser has classified them as the “unsung professionals of the academy”(2000), primarily due to the nature of the job, the general lack of recognition for their contribution and competence and depending on the institution, the limited opportunity for career growth and advancement opportunities.  Indeed, there has been a growing concern with mid-level professional burnout in the field of Student Affairs (Rosser & Javinar, 2003; Rosser, 2004; Till, 2006; Wilson, Liddell, Hirschy & Pasquesi, 2016).  Recent research on mid-level professionals show that “failure to develop professional identity may result in low morale, career discontentment, and/or a desire to leave the field” (Wilson, Liddell, Hirschy, & Pasquesi, 2016, p. 569).   A recent Higher Ed Live webinar “Unsung Heros: Mid-Level Staff in Student Affairs” (2016) addressed the growing concern of untapped potential for mid-level professionals.  More than ever, there should be an impetus to provide ongoing development and mentoring opportunities to our colleagues who occupy these mid-level seats within the profession. 

 An excellent solution here is to use Gallup’s strengths-based approach to access the limitless potential of each professional and improve their morale and professional engagement in the field of Student Affairs.  Using Gallup’s Strengths Assessment as a tool for talent identification, individuals can become both self-aware of their Strengths and can develop their acceptance of the unique combination of their talents.  Gallup’s Strengths-based approach is built on the philosophy of positive psychology, which posits the value in focusing on what people do well, rather than focusing on their weaknesses (Clifton & Harter, 2003).  This approach encourages individuals to develop their identities through increased self awareness and development of their innate talents, skills, and abilities.  Adopting a Strengths-based approach to individual development has a positive impact on employee engagement, productivity, well-being, and confidence among other outcomes (Clifton & Harter, 2003; Hodges & Clifton, 2004).  In fact, Gallup research shows that employees who use their strengths daily are six times more likely to be engaged at work (Sorenson, 2014).  

 I have found that my experience as a certified Gallup Strengths Coach has proven to be extremely helpful in working with mid-level Student Affairs Professionals.  Strengths coaching can be used in conjunction with the NASPA/ACPA Professional Competencies rubric.  For instance, you can create a self assessment tool using the Rubric as a guide.  Staff can be asked to complete the self assessment as part of an evaluative process.  Then, using Strengths as the language, you can engage in some thoughtful and intentional conversations with your staff member.  The rubric serves as a useful guide, helping staff to see where they might fall on the spectrum of Foundational, Intermediate or Advanced.  More importantly, the Rubric-Strengths combination gives the evaluation added “weight” and keeps it focused, specific and positive. It can be an uplifting and empowering experience to work with someone in developing their true potential.  More often than not, the conversations inevitably turns to their challenges and concerns in navigating their work environment, working with their supervisors as well as those they supervise.  It is particularly helpful using Strengths as the language to help guide those conversations.  As I often tell my colleagues, your Strengths will not tell you what to do, but they will tell you how to do it.  This means that whether challenged by difficult projects or working with recalcitrant staff, Strengths provides you with the tools to coach your team to use their talents to succeed

 If you have not tried Gallup Strengths Assessment tool, I strongly recommend it.  Your staff will appreciate you for it, and your work environment will be that much better.  Please feel free to contact me if you require any additional information or if I can help you out with a coaching session!


ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies Rubrics (2015)

 Clifton, D. O., & Harter, J. K. (2003). Investing in strengths. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 111-121.

 Doody, T (Host). (2016, August 24). Unsung Heros: Mid-Level Staff in Student Affairs. Higher Ed Live. Retrieved from:

 Hodges, T. D., & Clifton, D. O. (2004). Strengths-based development in practice. Positive psychology in practice, 256-268.

 Sorenson, S. (2014). How Employees Strengths Make Your Company Stronger. Gallup Business Journal.

 Wilson, M. E., Liddell, D. L., Hirschy, A. S., & Pasquesi, K. (2016). Professional identity, career commitment, and career entrenchment of midlevel student affairs professionals. Journal of College Student Development, 57(5), 557-572.

 Rosser, V.J. (2004).  A national study on midlevel leaders in higher education:  The unsung professionals in the academy. Higher Education, 48, 317-337.

 Rosser, V. J., & Javinar, J. M. (2003). Midlevel student affairs leaders' intentions to leave: Examining the quality of their professional and institutional work life. Journal of College Student Development, 44(6), 813-830.

 Tull, A. (2006).  Synergistic supervision, job satisfaction, and intention to turnover of new professionals in student affairs.  Journal of College Student Development, 47, 465-480.

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