Becoming a senior leader

Written by Gillian Harvey, a freelance writer and columnist who is regularly published in women’s lifestyle titles, as well as Guardian newspaper and other national press outlets.

As an experienced middle manager you may be considering the next step. Moving up to senior management requires several additional skills, so where should you start and how can you develop your skills?


Senior leader

Whatever your experience, it’s important to gain a clear picture of where you are now. Self-awareness is an essential part of leadership, and knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a crucial part of career development.

As a curriculum or departmental leader, you will have gained in-depth knowledge of an area within your institution. However, senior leaders need to have a broader overview, which may require knowledge of policy making, strategy and division, budgeting, as well as developing and managing a range of different staff with individual needs.

There are many other ways of identifying areas for development, including:

Appraisals: Most institutions carry out regular staff appraisals to help you identify strengths and training needs and set objectives for the future.

Self-assessment: The Education and Training Foundation’s (ETF) CPD Tool enables members to carry out a self-assessment of their knowledge and skills against the Professional Standards{link}, giving a solid structure to draw on while undertaking Qualified Teacher Learning Skills (QTLS){link} and enabling teachers and trainers to identify areas for their own professional development

Commitment to continuing professional development (CPD): In order to acquire the necessary skills, you may need to consider training opportunities, professional qualifications and any relevant opportunities to broaden your professional experience that may become available.


Training and qualifications

Many leaders choose to develop their understanding and expertise through completing Masters’ Degree or higher level vocational qualification. Most institutions recognise the value of such training and will often provide full or partial funding as well as practical support. You may also be able to access in-house management development programmes.

Short-term courses and webinars{link} can be useful in developing and enhancing knowledge and skills specific to your requirements. To assist in this process the ETF's Excellence in Leadership, Management and Governance (ELMAG) website offers a course finder to help you identify relevant training opportunities.

You can find information about online CDP opportunities on the Foundation Online Learning website.


Gaining experience

Relevant experience is an essential part of career progression. Consider ways in which you can gain suitable experience, either in or outside of your institution. For example, through project work, voluntary work in the local community, liaison or even a secondment to another FE and skills or training provider.


Enhancing your career progression

As well as specific training and experience requirements, there are different ways you can give yourself an advantage over any competition, and in doing so, boost your confidence.

  • Networking to connect with useful contacts
  • Raising your profile through public speaking or presentations
  • Liaising with other institutions on projects
  • Building healthy relationships with staff members and the senior leadership team
  • Prioritising and target-setting to ensure you set a realistic time-scale, and allow yourself the opportunity to carry out any CPD in a meaningful and beneficial way

Managing your time

Part of being an effective leader is developing the ability to effectively manage your time. You should now be aware of your training needs, and have an idea of the experience you need to gain and your personal skill development.

The next step is to develop a comprehensive plan to enable you to move from your current position into a more senior role. For this, you will need to set a realistic timeframe and prioritise your areas for development accordingly, including:

  • Training
  • Experience
  • Networking
  • Personal development (for example, confidence building)


Setting goals

Gaining a senior leader post can be one of the most demanding applications you’ll make, so having identified your needs, requirements and potential obstacles to overcome, you may find it helpful to set yourself a target to achieve within the next six months.

This could be speaking to senior leaders about potential opportunities, registering on a course – whether an MBA or a more short-term training option – expanding your list of contacts or arranging a secondment to another institution.


Engaging with research

To develop your skills and knowledge and deepen your teaching and training expertise, it's important to keep on top of the latest sector news and research articles.

You can do this by logging onto SET’s research library, giving members access to EBSCO’s expansive research journal collection, containing more than 1,300 education journals, 530 e-books and monographs and 2,300 education-related conference papers.

In addition, ETF’s Excellence Gateway enables users to access over 7,000 resources on a range of topics, including CPD information, teaching materials, guidance and research.