Professional development needs of junior- and mid-level managers at a South African university
Transformation of higher education in South Africa over the last two decades has been intensely shaped by post-apartheid pressures. Since 1994, the South African higher education system has seen numerous changes. The changing higher education environment poses unique challenges to educational administrators, in particular, junior- and mid-level managers. Professional development (PD) of managers is one of the crucial challenges that Higher Education is facing in these fast-changing times. PD for management has become both imperative and urgent in higher education today, as a result of global changes in education provision. Developing managers professionally is important since guidance has a direct impact on staff below the leader and on other levels, and plays a central role in developing the quality of employees and students. This study focuses on professional development for junior- and mid-level managers, as they are found in key positions and play a vital role in organisations such as universities, where this study is sited. This study aimed to answer the following research question: What are the professional development needs of junior- and mid-level managers at the North-West University (NWU)? Arising from the research problem, the aims of the study were first to determine from literature, the nature of professional development. The second aim was to establish the skills required by and responsibilities expected of junior- and mid-level managers at universities. Thirdly, this research sought to determine the professional development needs of the junior- and mid-level managers at the NWU. The fourth aim was to discover how biographical features influence the professional development needs of junior- and mid-level managers at the NWU. Finally, objective five was to develop guidelines to improve professional development of junior- and mid-level managers at the NWU. The study was embedded in the post-positivistic paradigm, having an ontological dimension that focuses on the nature of reality. A quantitative survey design in the form of a gap-analysis was conducted in order to determine the skills needed and responsibilities required of junior- and mid-level management to execute their duties. The outcome of this survey indicated the needs experienced with regard to professional development. Furthermore, a self-constructed instrument in the form of a questionnaire was used for this study that helped the researcher to determine the PD needs experienced by junior- and mid-level managers. Professional development is outlined as an intentional or unintentional process that includes improving, advancing and increasing the capabilities, skills and expertise of the staff. Professional development of staff is acknowledged as a strategy to sustain an organisation and guarantee its effectiveness. The more professional development opportunities provided by institutions, the greater the level of benefit that further ensures that the institution is well-informed and responsive to various managerial trends and challenges in the higher education environment. Developing managers professionally is strategically key, since receiving and providing guidance has a direct impact on employees working below and above the junior- and mid-level manager. In the literature review, four necessary skills for effective management, namely planning, organising, leading/guiding and control (POLC) were identified. The skills that are needed are informed by management tasks but in particular the sub-tasks of the four primary management tasks. Planning skills include activities such as decision-making, problem-solving, policy-making, budgeting and scheduling. Organising skills include the skill of delegation and coordination. Guiding skills include communication, networking, motivation, conflict management, negotiation, leadership and staffing. The control skills include measuring, observation and supervision, which are used to communicate policies and procedures of the institution or faculty to employees and stakeholders and to ensure the implementation of these. The responsibilities of junior- and mid-level management were identified from the literature, the NWU's internal documentation, as well as the confirmatory analysis of the empirical data. These core responsibilities included administration, support, programme management, management of results, student support, as well as programme evaluations. Professional development is viewed as a collaborative responsibility of all stakeholders. The recommendations made were based on various findings from the empirical part of the study. It is recommended that the NWU should develop a PD programme that focuses primarily on planning, guiding and controlling skills since those form the foundation of management skills. The nature of the PD programme or short course should be a combination of general and custom design to address individual needs of the junior- and mid-level managers regarding their skills and responsibilities. The PD programme or course should furthermore focus on administrative skills as well as management of various programmes for which the junior- and mid-level manager is responsible. The junior- or mid-level manager should, after attending such a training opportunity, critically reflect on the programme and provide feedback that will further enhance such an opportunity in future.
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