Professional Skills and Organizational Management

 

Sub-Competencies for Competency #2:

    1. Comprehend organizational structure, dynamics, and systems.
    2. Identify and evaluate leadership styles, including one’s own, in various settings.
    3. Demonstrate the ability to take initiative and lead in meetings and on projects or other tasks.
    4. Communicate and collaborate effectively and appropriately with constituents both internal and external to the institution, considerate of cultural and linguistic diversity.
    5. Synthesize fiscal information, including budget constraints and resources allocation.
    6. Recognize best practices and challenges in human resources/personnel management.
    7. Demonstrate flexibility and adaptability in changing circumstances, employing decision-making and problem-solving skills.

 

Introduction

 Coming into the CSSA program I was not necessarily confident in my understanding of professional skills and organizational management as they pertained to working in higher education, as the only experience I had in higher education was as a student. I consider myself a sponge, where I absorb all that is going on around me; I am extremely observant which typically makes me a quick learner. Over the years, I have learned that I am inquisitive and not afraid to speak up or ask questions, which can come across as an ‘envelope pusher’, but in my opinion, I figure one of the best ways to learn more about topics is to ask questions. While it felt like I came into the program and my position at the Alumni Association with little to no knowledge about the topics in this competency, I have been taught how to navigate organizational structures, dynamics, and systems, leadership styles, budgets and human resources best practices which are all necessary to my success as a student affairs professional. However, of all the CSSA competencies, this is perhaps also the one that I feel I still have a lot of growing to do. Below reflects where I am today, and how much more I have to learn.

 

Organizational Structure, Dynamics, and Systems

Kezar (2011) explains that organizational theory is one of the key frameworks that student affairs professionals must comprehend to fulfill their duties. Organizational theory encompasses aspects of student affairs work that should be addressed daily: leadership, governance, organizational change, resource allocation, human resource management, organizational design, restructuring, hiring, teamwork, networking, and organizational culture. As I engaged in ‘Organization and Administration of College Student Services’ (CSSA 558), I began to develop a deeper understanding of the way organizations work and the importance of communication. Communication within an organization may be effective or ineffective based on people’s ability, aspiration, and transparency. At Oregon State, for example, programs and functions are created to support the university’s mission which is: “As a land grant institution committed to teaching, research, and outreach and engagement, Oregon State University promotes economic, social, cultural, and environmental progress for the people of Oregon, the nation, and the world” (Oregon State University, 2021). Collaboration between departments and divisions is necessary when working to fulfill a mission statement – if people are not pooling resources and communicating ideas about their work, we may have three departments working towards different definitions of social or cultural progress.

Oregon State University follows a hierarchical system of management, which means that there is a hierarchy to their management structure: the university governing board (or board of trustees), university president, vice presidents/provosts, directors, associate directors and so on. In most cases, higher education institutions follow a hierarchical management structure (Kaplin & Lee, 2014) like Oregon State does. Hierarchical management structures are not always necessarily the best management structure. Some could argue that this hierarchy style of management is an outdated structure and may not serve everyone within a department (or university). However, it works well for systems that have a lot of little tasks that add up quickly and that must get done in a timely manner. For example, this approach would be beneficial in the Admissions Office when the processing of thousands of applications needs to happen quickly, it is beneficial because it allows for clear goals, effective planning, objectives can be monitored and eliminates overlapping and duplication of work. However, I learned in ‘Organization and Administration of College Student Services’ (CSSA 558), hierarchical systems are not necessarily the best structure to promote creativity and productivity especially during times of crises. I can say this to be true for myself as I can second guess myself quite a bit when others are involved; throughout this program and in my professional life as well, some of my best work has been when I had had the opportunity to make my own decisions and I do not have to be worried about getting permission from someone in a supervisory role. An alternative to a hierarchical system that could promote flexibility and quick decision making is horizontal (or flat as it is also known) organizational system, but it is typically used more by a small-scale business/unit.

While a higher educational institution is an organizational system on its own, there are multiple cultures that make up the system. The academic, administrative, student, athletic, alumni, and research cultures each play a part to benefit the programs and functions of the university as well as impacts the way an institution functions. While there can be divisions between academic and student affairs, successful partnerships between the two divisions do exist and can improve student access and retention and meet the needs of new student populations (Whitt, 2011). Collaborations between units can also help improve the separate cultures within an institution. For example, campus cultural resource centers can connect with an academic unit to educate student employees on cultural competency and identity. A training such as this example could give students and staff between units a chance to work together with one another and learn from one another’s experiences and expertise. At Oregon State, colleges, divisions, and departments and the sub-cultures mentioned above have historically had a high level of independence, but this likely will not be the case at all institutions because each organization has its own structure, dynamics, and systems. As I start to look for a job within student affairs, I am exploring organizational structure and dynamics. Since I value collaboration, I am seeking an environment that allows me to collaborate and learn from my colleagues and students.

 

Leadership Styles

The term ‘one size fits all’ does not fit higher education and in my opinion, especially when talking about leadership styles. Each person has a different relationship with leadership and their values, experiences, and competencies influence that relationship as well as their leadership style. Personally, I do not believe you can just pick a leadership style and stick with it; you can certainly have a preference, but a single leadership style will not always fit every situation in my opinion. Leadership requires a lot of responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Being able to address a situation, react and decide which leadership style is best for that situation is a significant strength within higher education.  It is also important to remember that not every person will react the same way to a leadership method.

I think in our society it is assumed that if someone is in a leadership position, it is because they are good leaders as well as supervisors, but that is not always the case. Leadership qualities do not happen overnight; they are taught over time, based on experiences and educational opportunities. Personally, I believe that leaders should lead by example as their staff are looking to them for advice and guidance. There is always room for growth (even as a leader), so I believe continuous education is important to improve one’s leadership skills. One thing that I hope to do as I develop as a leader is to continually seek feedback from those who I lead. I aim to have intentional conversations about what employees find to be best approach to the way they complete and accomplish their duties in their position and take that knowledge into consideration when leading the team.

During CSSA 558, we were given the task of creating a leadership philosophy statement (Artifact H) and one of the resources I looked at for this project was the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) website, which provides a great list of resources for leadership styles (blogs, articles, courses, books) in which attributes for both group leadership as well as individual leadership are highlighted. As I work to become a student affairs leader, I strongly believe in a supportive and collaborative environment for those I work with, creating a strong sense of community among my colleagues, and providing a space for growth and learning as professionals. As a leader, I am committed to promoting respect, community, transparency, accountability, inclusion, self-reflection, and professional development while I work to encourage others to lead and succeed.

When thinking about the values I am committed to as a leader, I believe many of those values are driven by my moral compass. Each person has a moral compass, and The Handbook of Student Affairs Administration provides a great description of what role a moral compass plays “…utilizes established ethical benchmarks and decision-making criteria to point the way to one’s moral responsibility in specific situations” (McClellan and Stringer, 2016). I am dedicated to letting my moral compass be my guide while I proceed through situations with courage and conviction. I plan on demonstrating and managing ethics through identification, understanding, and reasoning while following through in these ethical situations.

 

Taking Initiative

Taking initiative or the lead of a project or in meetings has presented itself in various opportunities, both in my academic and professional career. Two of the internships I completed during this program come to mind – my internships with the Alumni Association and the E-Campus Student Success Team allowed for me to lead assessments from start to finish on diversity efforts within the Alumni Associations career programming and the student experience during E-Campus’ orientation and their first year with E-Campus (Artifact I and Artifact J). I had the opportunity to conduct interviews (alumni, students, faculty, and other higher education institutions), build surveys, analyze data, improve communication lines between students or alumni and the two departments, and suggest improvements to each of the units future programming.

One of the main projects I have had the opportunity to be lead at the Alumni Association is leading the selection the Oregon State Homecoming Court each year. The homecoming court at Oregon State is a group of student leaders that embody the spirit, integrity, and achievement; they are selected by a selection committee (a panel made of OSU staff, faculty, and alumni) and is awarded a one-time scholarship once chosen. There are multiple aspects to this project: marketing the opportunity on campus, processing student applications, communicating with the selection committee and students, setting up the interviews, calculating scores, and planning a celebration to celebrate the students who get elected to the court. This roll requires me to collaborate with campus partners, colleagues, and alumni to ensure a comprehensive selection committee as well as making sure the opportunity is made known widely around campus. In the process, I learned how to in fact, be the lead. While at times during the beginning, I relied on my supervisor for support and would look to her for solutions, I came to a place where I felt more confident in my role and in my abilities so that I could effectively engage with the tasks and projects. I became confident and when it was time to communicate with colleagues about projects and/or ask for feedback or support in meetings, I was able to do so.

One of the key things I learned while being a lead on projects and in meetings is the importance of communication and feedback. I aim to encourage and participate in open communication, to make all parties involved feel like a vital partner in the completion and creation of goals and tasks. Moving forward, I want to make an intentional effort in increasing productivity and creativity in myself as well as team members and I believe this can be done if I encourage input, critique, and feedback from all those involved, including myself, in each project and meeting. Continuing to learn best practice behaviors and techniques will also be beneficial, in my opinion, when leading meetings and projects.

 

Communication

Communication is essential to life. Student Affairs has its own language, culture, and dynamics. Learning to communicate effectively with other members of the profession has been a challenge and a success in the past four years I have spent at Oregon State.

Larry Roper wrote, “I believe deeply we have the ability to be kinder in our words, more thoughtful in our actions, gentler in our treatment and more understanding of the imperfections associated with our humanness” (2014). While Roper’s words were directed towards a matter of social justice following a hate crime on campus, they resonate with the general way I desire to communicate with my colleagues and peers. Learning to communicate with individuals who have different values and priorities than I do has proven to be challenging. I have struggled to navigate others’ perspectives when they do not align with my values, especially knowing the knowledge and cultural competency I have gained because of my higher education. However, structural forms of oppression restrict many people from accessing higher education institutions and I acknowledge that. Taking a step back during a conversation, to gather my thoughts, think through my stance, and listen to the other party is essential to overcoming such conflicts.

In CSSA ‘Transitions’ (CSSA 599), I began the journey of communicating through Student Affairs learning and research. Having worked indirectly within the field of Student Affairs prior to my studies, I was a novice. Piece by piece, I began to weave together my knowledge and understanding of powerful communication and collaboration practices in the field. During ‘Fundamentals of Counseling’ (CSSA 530), we completed a Multicultural Competency article review and reflection (Artifact K and Artifact L), which helped me establish a better understanding of cultural and linguistic differences when communicating with others. I reviewed an article titled ‘Impostor Feelings as a Moderator and Mediator of the Relationship Between Perceived Discrimination and Mental Health Among Racial/Ethnic Minority College Students’ by Cokley et al. (2017). This article highlighted how different racial/cultural groups could be affected differently by mental health issues (imposter syndrome, depression, and anxiety specifically) and demonstrated how we do not know what could be affecting each student and how we cannot (and should not) assume how each student will react to a situation.

When working with others, it is especially vital to be aware of those who may feel silenced by systems of privilege and oppression. I continually aim to evaluate my words and thoughts, as well as my actions to make sure that voices are not getting disregarded, particularly by systems of privilege and oppression, and ensure that every voice is being heard. In CSSA 530, we had a few assignments where we role played counseling students and we would film our 15-minute interactions. While watching myself in the replay of these videos was not always the most pleasant, it was incredibly beneficial as I am a visual and tactile learner. These interactions helped me better realize that I have the bad habit of interrupting others when I have a thought or have strong feelings about something. I also noticed that I would jump ahead and try to start solving problems before the “student” had finished explaining their problem. However, I would say that I was good at remaining engaged and focused during the interactions.  As I go forward in my career, I plan to work on my listening skills and not jumping ahead of those that are talking and being better at assessing if the student wants help solving a problem, feedback on a problem/situation, or if they just need a listening ear.

 

Budgets

In higher education, your values should show in your budget. Throughout my experience here in the CSSA Program, I have seen challenges with budgeting and resource allocation. Unfortunately, there is never enough money nor are there enough people to support all the programs and functions we may hope to do. When choosing what programs to implement, we need to ensure that we have sufficient research to support our budgeting decisions. If the budget is tied to student fees and governmental support, it is important to be all the more intentional with our programs. The budget item(s) become more relevant when the learning outcomes tie to the vision and mission of the organization.

My principal budget knowledge came from the course, ‘Budget and Finance of Higher Education’ (CSSA 574), which has left me with a strong understanding of long- and short-term budgeting, understanding how to represent your mission and strategic goals in your budget, and working within a student fee funded office. From this class I learned, when thinking about where the funding comes from – either from the general fund (taxpayers) or student fees (students) – I need to think about every action I am taking and whether the ideas and projects will truly benefit and support student learning and development at the university. For our final project, we had to create a balanced budget for the Memorial Union at OSU, in which I had to make decisions about hiring, wage increases, program development, as well as program termination. These decisions result from budget fluctuations due to enrollment decreases and increases, government funding sources, and fundraising efforts (Barr and McClellan, 2011). I realized that as student enrollment decreases, all student affairs professionals must take initiative to ensure that we are utilizing our resources in the best way possible. If I truly believe my program is worth it, I need to show how the budget and resources are supporting the students and supporting their learning outcomes.

Human Resources

The concept of hiring the right people appears to be a trend in the field of student affairs. Not only are applicants looking for the right fit, institutions and departments are looking for individuals who can help fulfill their mission and vision, those who will subscribe to the values of the institution. In my role at the OSU Alumni Association (OSUAA) as an Administrative Assistant, I have been able to supervise a group of four student workers for general office support. While I led the recruitment and training efforts, I have faced challenges. Surprisingly, the general office support made it difficult for students to connect or commit to the organization. During the process, I found myself seeking council with my supervisor wondering what I should do to improve training and recruitment. Eventually, I realized that I was leading student workers without a clear understanding of how their support was needed and greatly impacted the work we do at the Alumni Association, which is something I worked to rectify by adapting our recruitment and training practices. The training objectives were modified to increase the students’ knowledge and understanding of OSUAA programs so that even if they did not have a chance to represent OSUAA through tabling or presentations at events, they would be able to understand and talk about all programs of OSUAA. While this change was recently implemented, we are hopeful that it will encourage more engagement from the student staff we will be hiring during the next academic year.

An employee’s contractual agreement contributes to an unbiased and safe environment where the employee can thrive, because it clearly outlines the rights and responsibility of both the employer and employee; it is important in a supervisory role to be familiar with the rights and rules of said agreement. Through ‘Legal Issues in Higher Education’ (CSSA 554), I learned about the importance of staying in compliance with external and internal rules. During this class, I learned that if you work for a public institution, you are a state agent (Kaplin & Lee, 2014), which indicates that I must uphold both the U.S. constitution and the constitution of the individual state I work for (such as Oregon). On top of that, I am also responsible to abide by the university’s rules and regulations, including those related to the hiring, management, and dismissing of employees. Admittedly, this kind of responsibility (knowing and upholding the constitution, statutes, and rules and regulations) makes me a little nervous about management because I do not have much experience with managing staff members other than student employees. I look forward to continuing to develop the skills and knowledge required when supervising and leading others.

Leading personnel requires the leader/supervisor to apply strategies to motivate, resolve conflicts, and engage in policy and procedural development (ACPA & NASPA, 2010). This entails at times having difficult conversations with employees. For example, in CSSA 558, we discussed the challenges of working in an organization with colleagues and supervisors who do not follow or believe in the mission or values of the institution. There may come a point when managers and supervisors must ask their supervisees if they are willing to continue serving the mission or if it is time to leave the organization. While this is a difficult conversation to have, it is essential to serving the mission and providing care to the students.

Within higher education and at Oregon State, we value diversity and inclusion. As a rule, we believe that all workers, students, and faculty will benefit from working with people who encourage and inspire change. By celebrating diversity and difference, we have a great opportunity to learn, grow, adapt, and change to create a better educational environment and citizenry for all to benefit from. As some of the primary challenges that arise within human resources are centered on bias and prejudice, I believe training can help raise awareness of the social justice issues that could occur. However, if an employee does not agree with this value, does not understand the importance of this, or is resistant to training, they may (perhaps unconsciously) harm students through their actions. Thus, this presents both a difficult conversation, but also an opportunity to engage the employee and encourage growth. When I am in a leadership role and there are similar opportunities, I plan to encourage my employees to attend workshops to help foster cultural competency for our office culture and their service to students.

Decision-Making & Problem Solving

I am a planner and a realist. I like to be in control of my life. I prefer to know what direction I am headed, how I will get there, what tools I must use, and who will be with me. During the beginning of the CSSA program when talking about the future in higher education, I was hesitant to engage in futuristic thinking, because it was scary, I was unsure of how to make decisions to be a part of leading the field. Fortunately, as I continued to investigate the possibilities especially in distanced learning, I saw promise in the future – we could promote wellbeing for students without letting go of the technological advances that have enhanced the ability and magnitude of our outreach.  As higher education continues to change and grow, I know it is my responsibility to change with it. Reaching the end of this program, I am constantly challenging myself and putting myself in situations and environments that are new and different than my past. Adaptability is key to my future in this ever-changing profession.

One of the main themes I have learned about higher education is that flexibility is required and that systems and those of us working in the field will likely never be perfect. The pandemic has taught me that problem solving and decision making involves flexibility and adaptability. During this time, I had to figure out how to make the homecoming court review and selection process accessible to the selection committee via online through Zoom, Google forms, and email since we no longer could meet in person. Turning the selection process from an in-person to virtual was a rollercoaster ride, but it was a great lesson on adaptability, and it ended up being more beneficial to the process (making it easier to get documents ready for the committee and the scoring was now easier because I could just download it into an excel sheet instead of putting each of the scores into an excel sheet by hand). Perfection sounds good on paper, and it is good to hope for the best, but it is critical to be able to roll with the punches and be ready for the unexpected. I have learned there is significant value in contingency plans, collaborative relationships, and the ability to solve problems within higher education. I am thankful for having practitioner-scholars as the instructors for this program as they have given me a realistic view of what higher education administration entails by providing examples of the problems and situations that they face on a day-to-day basis.

 

Conclusion

As I look toward my future as a Student Affairs practitioner this competency is the one, I believe I most need to continue to develop. I have had many experiences as a young professional, but still feel myself overwhelmed when considering myself in a coordinator or director role. In part, this feeling comes from being a new professional, and the other is fear that I may become burned out on the politics within higher education and will no longer be able to serve students at the level I would like to. While I was able to gain an understanding of and engaging with professional skills and organizational management in my coursework including  ‘Organization and Administration of College Student Services’ (CSSA 558), ‘Legal Issues in Higher Education’ (CSSA 554) and ‘Budget and Finance’ (CSSA 574), as well as my internship and current employment experiences, what I learned most from this experience is that I have a lot of room for continued education around understanding organizational, staff and program management, and that it is also critical to continually engage in current issues within the field.

The Alumni Association has gone through various changes during my four years there: we aligned with the OSU Foundation, our executive director retired, a new leader was hired, and there were several other personnel changes. With constant changes around the office, I worked to find a rhythm for my work and practice that would allow me to be successful in whatever changing circumstances that would ensue. Through these changes, I was able to discuss many of the changes within the department with my supervisor and find ways to apply what I was learning to my future position. For example, upon realizing that I value community and connection with colleagues, I came up with questions to ask in an interview regarding work and office culture, knowing that to be my best self, I will need a supportive office that will allow me to feel connected.

 


 

Resources:

ACPA & NASPA. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Retrieved from https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/Professional_Competencies.pdf

Barr, M. & McClellan, G. (2011). Budget and finance manager in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Cokley, K., Smith, L., Bernard, D., Hurst, A., Jackson, S., Stone, S., … Roberts, D. (2017). Impostor Feelings as a Moderator and Mediator of the Relationship Between Perceived Discrimination and Mental Health Among Racial/Ethnic Minority College Students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(2), 141–154. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000198

Kaplin, W. A., & Lee, B. A., (2014). The Law of Higher Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kezar, A. (2011). Organizational theory. In J. H. Schuh, S. R. Jones, S. R. Harper, and Associates (Eds.), Student services: A handbook for the profession (pp. 226-241). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McClellan, G. S., & Stringer, J. (Eds.). (2016). The handbook of student affairs administration (4th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Oregon State University. (2021). Oregon State University mission statement. Retrieved from http://leadership.oregonstate.edu/trustees/oregon-state-university-mission-statement

Roper, L. (2014, March 11). Injury, healing, community here at OSU. The Daily Barometer.

Whitt, E. J. (2011). Academic and student affairs partnerships. In J. H. Schuh, S. R. Jones, S. R. Harper, and Associates (Eds.), Student services: A handbook for the profession (pp. 482-496). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Artifacts: