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Vivian Howard

Profile: Vivian Howard

Name: Vivian Howard, Associate Dean, Academic, Faculty of Management

What do you find interesting about leading in an academic environment?

People who work in universities are the luckiest people in the world. Here at Dalhousie, we have great students, and I have motivated colleagues who truly get satisfaction out of what they do. In an academic environment, thinking is what we do. You know that when you propose a new idea, it’s always going to be debated and discussed, and people are going to have different perspectives, but people are also much more engaged.

What do you think are the qualities that will lead to success in academic leadership?

You have to really like and get along with people, and be interested in them. People who have those relationship skills and spend time establishing relationships with their colleagues are more easily able to find success as leaders. You also have to be a good communicator, by getting other people to share in the discussions and the planning. It’s important to be somebody that can motivate other people to engage, discuss, and share ideas, and then take responsibility to move those ideas forward.

What are your particular areas of strength from a leadership perspective?

I take my job and my responsibilities very seriously, but I try not to take myself too seriously. I have a good sense of humour, and I don’t feel that my personal ego is threatened if someone disagrees with something I’m doing. I try to create an environment where people feel comfortable giving input, both positive and negative. I observed different leaders throughout my career, and I always preferred working with the open communicators. I don’t overlook the people whose voices need to be heard, whether they are students, staff, or faculty.

What is key for leaders in shaping their respective faculties/departments?

It’s important to help people identify their priorities, and accepting that you can’t change everything all at once. You need to narrow it down to two or three initiatives so that you can focus on them. I enjoy working with my colleagues to establish those initiatives and reach some agreement around them. My responsibility then is to help move these priorities forward, as determined by the people who are most directly involved in the processes.

What new projects are on the horizon for your faculty?

I’m currently developing a strategy for increasing the support for our international students. We’re looking at different approaches for things that we haven’t been doing before, including more workshops for both faculty and students. Dal is increasing its numbers of international students, which means we have to look at changing the way some classes are taught, and offering more support to ensure we are serving those students well. We want to retain them and make sure we’re doing a good job responding to their needs.

What advice would you give to faculty members who might be considering an administrative role within the university?

It’s a wonderful opportunity to find out how the university works and to meet some of the key decision makers. You get to educate yourself about the system and how decisions are made, and have input into making those decisions. This makes faculty more informed and more engaged.