Professors as intellectual leaders: Formation, identity and role

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The literature on leadership in higher education is predominantly concerned with the role of formally designated senior managers such as heads of department and deans of faculty. By contrast, relatively little attention has focused on those performing informal and distributed forms of leadership, such as (full) university professors. This article draws on the results of an online questionnaire and interviews to explore the leadership role of professors, primarily in a UK context. Professors feel that there is a mismatch between their priorities and those of their employing institutions and that their expertise is under-utilised. A number of qualities are identified which may be associated with the role of a professor as an intellectual leader: role model, mentor, advocate, guardian, acquisitor and ambassador. It is argued that new managerialism and performative expectations are reshaping the role of the professoriate, and that institutions need to do more to develop their leadership capacity. Copyright © 2011 Society for Research into Higher Education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-73
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Issue number1
Early online dateSept 2010
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


Macfarlane, B. (2011). Professors as intellectual leaders: Formation, identity and role. Studies in Higher Education, 36(1), 57-73. doi: 10.1080/03075070903443734


  • Intellectual leadership
  • Professors
  • Management


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