How do you develop Administrative Leadership skills?

by Tarah Kadzielawski

April 13, 2016

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Read more from the whole leadership blog series

In last week’s Whole Leadership post, Teri Talan started us in a new direction, Administrative Leadership. My personal background is similar to many other program leaders in our field—I was a strong teacher who was promoted into administration. In my personal experience with administrative leadership, I felt I could handle pedagogical leadership and thought I had many leadership essentials; however, I knew I was in need of some support and resources to build up my administrative leadership skills. (In hindsight I’m sure I was in need of more resources for pedagogical leadership and leadership essentials as well, but that is a different blog post.)

To build up my administrative leadership skills, I turned to the resources at my disposal. There were director’s networks—I was involved in—related to different funding sources such as Head Start and state pre-K. However, these didn’t provide the administrative leadership skill development that I sought. Two professional learning opportunities that I participated in did help develop my administrative leadership skills:

  • Taking Charge of Change: Opened my eyes or caused me to rethink aspects of leadership such as: Building a vision and clearly communicating it to staff; recruiting, hiring, and orientating; and how to give effective feedback to name a few.
  • Technology of Participation (ToPs): Taught me facilitation methods to help groups think, talk, and work together. Great for shared decision making.

I probably could have read more books, articles, or journals, but I felt overwhelmed as a new director. I was constantly putting out fires. If I could go back and give my younger self any advice, it would be to make time to learn about, develop, and practice the administrative leadership skills. I think if I had more administrative leadership skills working at the time, I would have been putting out fewer fires.

As I have continued my journey, I think about administrative leadership skills more broadly. Lately, I have been finding myself talking with colleagues about how administrative leadership skills—at their core—should be transferable to other professions. I noticed in many e-mails I receive from Exchange Everyday, they often provide information from the Harvard Business Review related to leadership and management topics. I was also at a training not that long ago when someone told me about ATD. What’s ATD you ask? It is the Association for Talent Development. They provide resources on a variety of topics including leadership.

How do you work to improve your administrative leadership skills? What resources do you go to for operational leadership? What resources do you go to for strategic leadership? Do you find it difficult to find professional development related to either aspect of administrative leadership? If so, what are you looking for that you haven’t been able to find? Maybe if you share, someone else reading the blog may have a suggestion to help you find the resource you are looking for.

Please share with others in the comments section below so we can build a collective library of resources to improve our administrative leadership skills: 

  • Conferences, trainings or workshops you have attended or plan to attend
  • Books, articles, journals, blogs, follow twitter, podcasts or other social media
  • Any membership organizations or groups you know of or belong to
  • Anything else you think might help someone else related to building up administrative leadership
Tarah Kadzielawski is the e-learning Manager for the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. Previously, Tarah served as an assessor and training specialist for the McCormick Center. She holds a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy. Prior to working at the McCormick Center, Tarah worked as a classroom teacher, a program coordinator, and a director of an accredited early childhood center serving low income families and included Head Start and Preschool for All children.


10 Responses to “How do you develop Administrative Leadership skills?”

  1. Jack says:

    My experiences as a consultant to an preschool agency lead to me feeling that there can be too much separation between administrative leaders and staff. This seems often to be a problem of a person promoted from staff to administration. The task is to wear authority well without losing collegiality. Power can corrupt, and advanced leadership needs humility with which to balance power.Humility can be easy if we consider the complexity of early childhood education. The complexity may even create fear, which can lead to defending with arrogance and separation.

  2. Tarah says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jack. What strikes me about your reflection is a connection to leadership essentials. What I hear you saying is that administrative leadership, to be effective, needs humility. In your role as consultant, how were you able to help the administrative leadership develop this awareness or skill? Do you have resources to share that would help other programs facing similar challenges? Or did you find it challenging to help this agency? Were there resources you wished were available that you could not locate? If so, what were you looking for?

  3. Mike Abel says:


    It is interesting that you bring up humility, because we included that as a leadership attribute when we discussed leadership essentials. Humility is necessary in organizations that utilize a distributed leadership approach because it requires a degree of deference–intentionally choosing to set aside one’s own preferences or opinions for those of another person. That often requires humility. Thanks for bringing this to our attention and for your contribution as we co-construct a Whole Leadership framework.

  4. Mj says:

    As I reflect on the questions above, I can’t think of any one program, training, or workshop that has directly influenced my administrative leadership skills. Although, Jeff Haden writes some great articles on leadership qualities. Major experiences that stand out to me are those of just being around great leaders. I can name specific qualities in leaders that I’ve worked with that just bring out the best in people. I harvest these qualities and use these experiences to refine my own leadership skills. These experiences coupled with my background in administration- by default and not design, is what has afforded me the opportunity to further develop my administrative leadership skills …plus the fact that I think a “well-oiled machine” (for lack of a better term) is such a beautiful thing to create and experience. So I work to create harmony for others in every aspect of their experience of administrative support. The ability to reflect as a leader is so critical to the evolution of skills and abilities in this area. Great leaders are very self-aware and by virtue of the reach of their work have tons of opportunities to take in feedback from the work they do to refine their skills and abilities towards mastery. Good administrators work very consciously to create experiences with the end user in mind and- at the same time, understand their audience very well. It’s so hard where I’m from to find great pedagogical leaders with equally great administrative skills by design. There are not a lot of support systems in place for folks to network to support the development/refinement of these skills- which, I also agree, are transferable to other professions.
    In the field of ECE as a leader if you have strong administrative skills and weak pedagogical skills, or vice versa…parents will eat you alive!

  5. Tarah says:

    I find your response to be thought provoking. Clearly you must be observant and reflective to use your experience with great leaders as your teacher. As you shared being around great leaders and the qualities they possess such as: being reflective; self-awareness; ability to bring out the best in people; create harmony for others; and understand their audience. I wonder if you consider these to be essential leadership qualities that cross both administrative and pedagogical leadership or if you think they are specific to administrative leadership. In an early post in our series we brought up the idea of “Leadership essentials,” which was defined as foundational competencies necessary for leading people that are expressed in personal leadership styles and dispositions. These essential competencies include awareness of self, others, and the profession; communication and team-building skills; cultural competence; and ethical conduct. Essential leadership qualities include courage, empathy, vision, inspiration, authenticity, and passion. Leadership essentials are often developed through reflective practice. These qualities are embedded in everything the leader does and are necessary for both administrative and pedagogical leadership.” Are the qualities you mentioned, qualities you consider essential for all types of leadership?

    I’m curious to know more about your background in administration by default. I love hearing the stories of how people ended up where they are.

    If you can name the articles by Jeff Haden that demonstrate specific qualities of leaders that you think are especially great please share them. I found one article by Jeff, “The 8 Instinctive Habits of Remarkable Leaders” through an online search that makes some interesting points.

    I agree that schools/programs need to have both strong administrative and pedagogical leadership. I also appreciate you identifying a gap, support systems in place to network and support the development/refinement of both administrative and pedagogical leadership skills.

    I’m curious to know if Mj’s experience is unique or if it is the norm. Please join our conversation about how leadership skills are developed.

  6. Mj says:

    Hi Tarah,

    I am so glad I found this series! It is a very interesting and refreshing read.
    Yes, the qualities that I mentioned- that you referenced in your response, are those that cross the pedagogical and administrative roles. And yes, I agree, they are essential for all forms of leadership. They are some of the ‘bare essentials’ of being in a leadership role.

    As for how I developed my administrative skills by default…. Often times, I was provoked by colleagues who just had a problem to solve or needed a form or document that would make a process more efficient and seamless, and I knew I could figure it out. So I did! I am relentless this way… 🙂 As it turns out I was just given more and more responsibility as it relates managing processes, systems and people which has allowed me to harness the operational side of my administrative skills. From there things just snowballed and my interest in ‘the things that great leaders do’ just grew. When faced with a new situation, I had the experience of working with my bosses to fall back on and I used that as an opportunity to do some reading to strengthen my own skills. The only way I can describe it, is I have just evolved as a leader, based on observation, experience and reflection and I do this on an ongoing basis because I am passionate about being good at what I do and I’ve received constructive feedback that has motivated me to become better…and I love the intersection of theory and practice! I am often engaged in a cycle of listening learning, doing and refining when working with people and systems and it can be very challenging at times. The skills to lead strategically… I would say have evolved in the last 5 years as I have worked in large organizations (government and post-secondary) that are very complex in the services they provide and so have a very clearly defined strategic plan of action that needs to be operationalized and executed.

    A couple of Jeff Haden’s articles that I’ve enjoyed reading include: “How to build exceptional relationships: 9 habits of people we love to work with” and “One quality that makes a leader truly great”.

    I have recently shifted to Dubai and at a recent workshop session where there were a group of childcare leaders it was discussed that the fiercely competitive nature in the childcare business here alienates leaders from networking and honing their skills.

  7. Lisa says:

    Hi Tarah,
    I am so glad I followed the link on the email I got today from The McCormick Center that led me here – what I have been reading in these posts is very enlightening. I have found the book The 3 R’s of Leadership by Julie Biddle to be a game changing resource as I work with early childhood directors. At last year’s NJAEYC conference Julie ran a preconference full day session, attended by an eclectic group that included principals, ECE supervisors, center directors, Head Start Education coordinators and QIS staff. It is unusual for those of us working in the community child care world to have that type of mix, and it was interesting to hear the varying perspectives and strategies. They inspired me to come back to my professional role last Fall and start a PLC with center directors to model reflective practices. We are currently doing a monthly book study of Their Name is Today – Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World by Johann Christoph Arnold. As Community Playthings offers as many copies of this book as you need at no charge, my hope was that when we are done the directors will institute a book study in their own programs. I am thrilled that so far several directors have started just such a program as part of their staff meetings, and a couple have started passing out this book to their parents as a way to support their conversations about best practices. Just as we teach children, with hands on experiences and scaffolded support, directors need mentors and coaches to help them grow in their leadership skills. Baby steps – it’s all about the ripple effects as the good work spreads for the benefit of the children we all serve.

  8. Tarah says:


    I’m glad you are enjoying the blog series. We are really excited when you dialog with us. Please share this blog series with anyone you think would enjoy it or even better participate in the conversation. We are thrilled to hear from those of you leading schools/programs and supporting these organizations.

    You talk about developing your administrative skills by default; however, it seems much more intentional than you realize. Clearly you have a passion for the topic and improving your leadership. You read on the topic, you also seem to use a continuous quality improvement approach to developing your leadership skills.

    I’m wondering if people outside if Dubai also feel a competitiveness that prevents them from networking and supporting each other’s professional growth as leaders.

    I strongly recommend that you attend our annual Leadership Connections conference this May 12-14 in Wheeling, IL. We will be continuing this conversation on Whole Leadership. If not this year, maybe next year
    🙂 

  9. Tarah says:

    I’m so glad you are enjoying this blog series. Please spread the word to anyone you think would find it interest or would like to make their voice heard on this topic of whole leadership.

    Thank you for sharing The 3 R’s of Leadership by Julie Biddle. I’m going to have to check it out.

    It sounds like your PLC is a place where directors can find support for improving their leadership skills. Would you consider reflective practice a leadership essential, an administrative leadership skill, a pedagogical leadership skill or something else?

    I agree, the idea of baby steps and how their effect spreads is important to keep in mind when we think about improving leadership.