This source preferred by Chris Shiel
Authors: Shiel, C.
Editors: Sterling, S., Larch, M. and Luna, H.
Universities are uniquely placed to play a leading role in the pursuit of sustainable development… [The challenge] for HE senior management is to lead the academic community in its engagement in this process and to facilitate this wider impact.
(Pearce et al, 2008: 47) Although universities are ‘uniquely placed’ (something consistently reinforced since Agenda 21 ), the rhetoric is rarely matched by reality. Most universities are failing to address this leadership role; few universities are tackling the agenda in a systemic and holistic way. Examples of transformative change are rare. Evidence suggests that progress in many institutions has been driven bottom up, rather than through strategic, top-down intervention and conventional leadership approaches. Why is this, given that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE, 2005 and 2008) has strategically sought to raise the profile of sustainable development to ensure that it is ‘mainstream’; and that university leaders around the world have signed international declarations of support for sustainable development? Mention ‘leadership’ and most people automatically think of those roles at the top of a hierarchy – within universities, the role of the vice chancellor and their immediate team. Yet, whilst the leadership responsibilities of the university’s senior team are critical, particularly their role in endorsing strategy for sustainable development, distributed leadership is equally important. As Marshal et al (2011: 9) suggest, ‘we doubt if change for sustainability can often be brought about by directed intentional action, deliberately followed through’. Should more bottom-up progress be promoted as the single enabling factor? Or will effective leadership at senior management level, as an additional driver to the work of champions, speed up progress? This chapter will focus on leadership for sustainable development (SD) and, specifically, the leadership of SD within universities. A number of questions will be explored: What can we learn from theories of effective leadership? What would effective leadership for SD involve? Does the university setting require different leadership? What practices would be involved and what type of behaviours might be anticipated? The implications of the findings will be explored, followed by two of my own experiences. Finally, suggestions will be offered as to how senior managers might create an enabling environment, and facilitate a culture where everyone feels empowered to contribute to SD.
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Authors: Shiel, C.