This short guide has been designed to assist academic network leaders. Drawing on the cumulative experience of many Australasian network leaders, it offers a step by step checklist to set up your leadership for success. Watch for the HERDSA Guide on Leading Academic Networks - out in 2014, from which these tips were taken.
Leading Academic Networks
By Shelda Debowski, 2013
This guide draws on the collective insights of
Australasian academic network leaders to support
those entering into network leadership roles. It
explores the three key stages of commencing,
maintaining and concluding your leadership role,
providing a short checklist that will greatly
contribute to successful guidance of your
committee and network.
Before nominating or accepting a network
leadership role, consider carefully whether you
have the capacity to undertake this work. It is also
important to do due diligence of the network and
its management, to ensure you are aware of any
likely challenges that may need to be addressed.
Ideally, you will also be very familiar with its work
and mission, as you will be a key spokesperson.
Your role as a network leader is to:
• lead strategically and carefully govern
the finances and other structures that
your predecessors established;
• acknowledge and build on the past and
established strengths of the network;
• ensure the long-term sustainability of
• build a supportive setting for your
committee and other volunteers;
• ensure network members feel valued,
recognized and supported; and
• remain true to the principles on which
the network was established.
Phase 1: Getting started as an academic network leader
The following list is in rough chronological order. In your first few
months as network leader:
Advise your employer of your new role. They will need to support your activities with
time away from your work and possibly, financial assistance.
Seek a handover from the past leader.
Review the history, constitution, current systems and practices, and membership
Update your profile on your email address, network website, LinkedIn and other
forums. You may also wish to have a business card for when you are representing
Prepare a communication to your members to introduce yourself.
If your network employs paid staff, meet with them and learn about their role/s.
Discuss how you can support and manage them.
Familiarise yourself with the network’s financial systems and fiscal status.
Explore the budget that is available for the coming year and how it is normally
Make contact with your new executive and learn a little about each person. If you can,
identify their goals, work context and how they hope to contribute to the committee
Organize an induction pack for your committee members so that they have early
knowledge of the network and its context (including the constitution if it exists.)
(Your network manager / officer can assist with this.)
Convene an executive meeting – face-to-face is critical at this stage. Allow
sufficient time for people to get to know each other.
Clarify the operational priorities and requirements of the network: what core
activities do you need to preserve and support?
In consultation with your committee, explore the strategic goals that your
network might accomplish during its term of office. Be realistic. Ensure there is
sufficient will, resources and capacity to achieve them. Check too that they are
the things that members will value.
Maintain regular communication with your members on what you are doing.
Respond to emails and other communications promptly.
Set up your record systems and folders so that you can find network
Make contact with your network’s allies and collaborators to build your own
Phase 2: Leading your academic network
Your leadership goals will
relate to four key areas:
1. Managing your time and
commitments to properly
fulfill your role
2. Encouraging an effective and
3. Ensuring the network is
viable and visible
4. Guiding new strategic
directions that will
strengthen the network.
Manage your time and priorities
Schedule network management time in
Ensure your network operates from
clear policies, systems and practices.
Diarize regular meetings with your
network’s paid employees. Schedule
face to face meetings when feasible.
Delegate where you can.
Keep good records.
Respond to members as quickly as
Review your activities quarterly to
ensure you are focused on the strategic
priorities of the network.
Keep your contact directory up to date. Add new key contacts in as you meet
Make lists! And get them done…. Don’t procrastinate.
Focus on the big issues, not the minutia. You will find that people do things
differently. Focus on the outcome, not the process.
Encourage an effective and energized executive committee
Establish your committee communications so that you can interact quickly and efficiently.
Set regular meetings – either face to face or virtual.
Establish clear executive responsibilities and portfolios.
Ensure meetings are well organized, productive and constructive. Plan well ahead. Make
sure they conclude with agreed action items and clear lines of responsibility.
Review the committee minutes quickly and circulate them in a timely manner.
Monitor progress on agreed projects / priorities.
Encourage committee members and recognize their efforts.
Address conflicts promptly.
Encourage written reports from each executive member for review at meetings.
Identify the strengths of the committee members and deploy them accordingly.
Delegate tasks if they are appropriate to share with other members and monitor their
Seek feedback on your leadership effectiveness after 6 months.
Undertake a review of the committee’s effectiveness after 12 months.
In consultation with your committee, prepare carefully for the Annual General Meeting,
using it as an opportunity to review the committee’s outcomes and directions. Ensure you
are well prepared for any questions from members about money.
Watch for potential new committee candidates who might be nurtured in readiness for the
Ensure the network is viable and visible
Maintain productive links with the sector,
key government agencies and other
Prepare regular communications to
members and place them on the network
website as well.
Set an annual budget, keep to it and report
Optimize your income generation (e.g. use
high yield interest bearing accounts; look
Monitor the budget monthly. Do not allow
Look for opportunities to promote your
network and to raise revenue.
Monitor membership numbers. If they are
dropping, follow up on lost members to
determine why they have not renewed
Review the effectiveness of your services
for different membership groups.
Review the marketing approach. Can
it be improved?
Update and maintain your website,
public documents, brochures and
Evaluate your social media strategy.
Identify any sustainable and
manageable options that might be
If you identify risks, address or
Develop a communication plan that
identifies the key stakeholders,
strategies and timelines to be
Maximize network events and
conferences as marketing and
membership engagement activities.
Explore potential collaborations with
similar networks or associations.
Guide new strategic directions to strengthen the network.
Develop a strategy or strategic plan to guide your committee’s activities and priorities.
Ensure any developments support the network’s constitution / purpose.
Monitor the network’s context and any changing influences against the strategy.
Explore how comparable networks are operating. Do they offer models or approaches that
would work for your network?
Canvass member opinion and input.
Leverage off the strength of your committee members.
Keep to a limited set of priorities that are manageable.
Develop a clear timeline, project plan, responsibilities and agreed deliverables. Check
Report back to network members on progress and milestones.
Phase 3: Concluding your leadership role
In the last few months, you might:
Ensure elections are rigorously managed and promoted.
Encourage potential candidates to nominate.
Prepare a clear overview of the outcomes to share with the new incumbent.
Ensure the budget is in good shape for the next committee.
Meet with the new incumbent to overview the systems, finances and other governance
Consider a joint meeting with the outgoing and incoming committees.
Explore the role the incoming leader might like you to play (if any).
Prepare a reflection to share with members on the committee’s achievements and
Personally communicate with each committee member, acknowledging their contribution
Invite feedback from your committee on your effectiveness.
Want to know more? A comprehensive guide is available:
Debowski, S. (2014). Leading academic networks. Milperra, NSW: HERDSA.
Or see: http://nataonthenet.blogspot.com.au/ for a range of practical resources that you
might find helpful.
Author: Shelda Debowski 2013
Acknowledgement: The development of this document was informed by the work of the
Network of Australasian Tertiary Associations with funding provided by the Office for
Learning and Teaching.