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What leadership qualities are essential to enable HE?

09 May 2023 | Fiona Lennox Smith, Sarah Hubbard, Joanne Coysh Ahead of the launch of three new podcasts exploring the qualities of ‘authenticity’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘adaptability’, colleagues from our Leadership, Organisational Development and Research team, share some initial thoughts.

Leadership in our current context

Higher education and universities find themselves in a time of social, economic and political uncertainty and complexity. The challenges faced within many institutions are reflective of the complexity of the context and current climate. The parameters, foundations and fundamental approaches in higher education are constantly shifting and require leadership qualities and skills that help to navigate and transform.

This is the context for the Advance HE Leadership Survey which seeks to understand and provide evidence and insights by exploring and unpacking what works and what does not work for leadership in HE.

Emerging evidence base

The Advance HE Leadership Scoping Study and Survey Report provides seminal research into our HE leadership. It has generated a unique evidence base for leadership in higher education, highlighting contextual variations across the sector. It provides insights about leading and leadership in HE based on systematically exploring the question of, ‘what works?’

The research has generated a unique evidence-base for leadership in higher education and is an opportunity for us to invest in leaders, support leadership development, and recognise good practice in a consistent and reliable way more effectively. This data can also help institutions plan more effective leadership structures and to grow talent for the future.

Three initial conversations about ‘authenticity’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘adaptability’

Drawn from the research are 11 qualities (skills, competencies and approaches) that have been suggested as most important. Three have been identified as hallmarks of ‘good’ leadership: being ‘authentic’, ‘collaborative’ and ‘adaptable’. These qualities are interconnected and overlapping both in what they mean and how they are used. These qualities and the conditions that promote them, will be the focus area for three new podcasts. They illustrate our initial thoughts on the interconnected themes, with the aim of stimulating on-going reflection and conversation amongst members and in the sector within their institutions and beyond.

These podcasts will be published at the end of May 2023 along with further reflective questions to help stimulate further dialogue and knowledge sharing. NB: These podcasts are now live



Joanne Coysh is a Senior Consultant in the Leadership, Organisational Development and Research team at Advance HE.

Sarah Hubbard is a Senior Consultant in the Leadership, Organisational Development and Research team at Advance HE.

Fiona Lennoxsmith is a Lead Consultant in the Leadership, Organisational Development and Research team at Advance HE.

The Leadership Survey for Higher Education report is open to all. Download the report here.

Find out more about this project and register for updates on the member benefit page.


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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