A new vice president may inherit some major issues. For
instance, if an institution is in the middle of a capital campaign, strategic planning process, or construction project, the
vice president might have to make tough, quick decisions.
Find out when a response is needed, gather as much information as possible, and respond based on the best information
available. This will not be the last time the vice president will
be given short notice on important decisions. Get used to it.
Capitalize on Easy Victories
As a new member to the institution, a vice president can see
old problems from new perspectives without the constraints of
historical barriers. This is the time to identify obvious issues
that should be corrected. Also, consider completing unfinished
projects. Give credit where credit is due as you build a reputation for getting things done.
Create a Communication Plan
Decide how and when the office of the vice president will
communicate with students, parents, faculty, staff, and
members of the division. Devise a plan to make others aware
The new vice president may feel pressure to make a good
impression early by taking on too many new projects. If a
perceived problem is not an emergency that threatens students’ safety and well-being, then buy time and thoroughly
review the issue. Obvious solutions might look different in the
rearview mirror of a year. Delegate projects whenever possible.
Neglecting Relationship Building
Relationship building can be time consuming, inefficient, and
initially unproductive. However, in the long run, relationship building is the most important investment of time a new
vice president can make in the first year. Slow down, get to
know people, and appreciate and understand the culture. Put
relationship building before task completion.
Forcing Organizational Changes Too Soon
There will be some organizational changes—organizational
structure, compensation, facilities—that appear as if they
need to be resolved immediately. Resist the urge to make large
organizational changes for the entire first year. Observe, take
notes, consult, and be strategic about organizational changes.
Slow down, get to know people, and appreciate
and understand the culture.
of divisional activities and where they can turn to get information from the vice president’s office. Consider the campus
newspaper, quarterly newsletter, campus e-mail, social media,
and websites as communication tools. Let respective audiences
know where and how to access information.
Common First-year Mistakes
Advice about what to do would be incomplete without some
advice about what not to do. Mistakes and second thoughts
are common during the first year. What varies from institution
to institution is the tolerance for mistakes. In any environment, repeating the same mistakes will almost definitely lead
to termination. Avoid the following:
Overreliance on Past Management Success
Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won’t Get
You There (Hyperion, 2007), notes that when individuals
experience success on the job, their self-esteem and confidence
increase. As a result, they adopt beliefs about themselves that
may not necessarily be true. Strategies that were successful
in previous positions—doing it yourself, task-oriented focus,
dictatorial leadership style—may not produce success at the
vice-presidential level. At this level, success is largely dependent on the ability to get things done through relationships
rather than position power.
Understand why things are organized the way they are, gather
others opinions about what is working and not working, then
make the changes needed. Making organizational changes too
soon often results in fixing the wrong problem and leads to
unnecessary emotional turmoil. LE
Ainsley Carry is vice president for student affairs at Auburn University.
Johnetta Cross-Brazzell is vice president for student affairs at the University
of Arkansas (retired).
are you a new ssaO? do you know
a new ssaO?
Check out NASPA’s annual Institute for New Senior Student Affairs
Officers at www.naspa.org/programs/ssao. this program, held each
October in the Washington, D.C., area, is sponsored by the James
E. Scott Academy.