Academic Advising Resources


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Succeeding in the Move from Advisor to Advising Administrator
Authored by: Robert Detwiler & Wiona Porath

Perhaps the best way to learn how to do a specific job is not through a classroom setting, reading a book, or attending a conference, but rather to tackle a problem head-on. However, when the job is so new, such as moving from the front line of academic advising to becoming an advising administrator, how does one actually succeed in this new role? For new advising administrators, succeeding in a new environment is often daunting. Different environments require different skill sets and should be considered when thinking about future career opportunities. Finding the right fit and tools is important when transitioning to an administrator role.

Skill sets of advising administrators
In a previous Clearinghouse article, Renee Borns (2007) addressed some of the issues that face advising administrators (e.g., managing budgets, staffing decisions, training and professional development of advisors, and overseeing an assessment plan). Borns argued that it is important to get to know organizational dynamics including reporting structures, campus resources, decision making systems, and identifying campus offices for future partnerships and programming. In addition, Davis (2008) indicated there are five specific challenges advising administrators face when maintaining quality. These include maintaining student contacts, attending to personal professional development, advocating for excellent faculty advisors, making the case for a fair share of resources, and representing the interests of advising in the “big picture”.  Advising administrators and those seeking administrator positions are encouraged to follow Borns’ and Davis’ advice. Here we expand on Borns’ list, offering thoughts based on current literature and our personal experiences regarding the additional skills and resources needed to succeed in an advising leadership position.

First, it is critically important to understand the skill set needed to be successful at a leadership level. An entry-level advisor position has a different skill set than those needed to succeed as an advising administrator, dean, and university executive. At an entry level, advisors must be good at “being an advisor.” As the advisor moves to academic administration, the importance of being good at one particular job declines (Hill, 1992). What increases is the importance of having the conceptual skills and motivation needed to manage others. The development of “soft skills” becomes increasingly important. It is important to note that human relations skills are highly prized no matter what position level.

Newly hired advising administrators who were promoted to leadership because they were a great advisor may find themselves unprepared for their new job because of the unwritten responsibilities in the job description. As psychologist Henry Cloud wrote, “as they (new managers) rise to more significant positions of leadership, they need other skills in addition to what their business smarts can provide. They need to be able to lead people to get results…what usually got them there was being good at the business (emphasis added)…but now, as leaders they also have to be good at something else: getting people to do what it takes to make the plan work.” (Cloud, 2013, pp. 2-3). The new advising administrators are surprised that they are doing less advising than when they were on “the front lines.” Hill (1992) noted that new administrators typically struggle with moving from “being a doer” to focusing on staff development.  Thus new advising administrators need to focus more on training than actually performing advising duties themselves.

Advising administrators in multiple contexts
Advising administrators can succeed when they understand the interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence skills needed to be successful at the management level. Peter Northouse (2010) defined emotional intelligence as “our ability to understand emotions and apply this understanding to life’s tasks…the ability to perceive and express emotions, to use emotions to facilitate thinking…and to effectively manage emotions within oneself and in relationships with others.” (p. 23). These “soft skills” are critically important when interacting with faculty and staff in advanced leadership positions, such as department chairs, deans, provosts, and even the university president. In addition, these skills are immensely helpful when managing staff.

In addition, aspiring administrators need to consider which organizational structure will be most successful. For example, the 2011 NACADA National Survey of Academic Advising reported that professional advisors were present and advised undergraduate students at 83% of public bachelor’s institutions, and at only 38% of private bachelor’s universities. At the master’s level, professional advisors are at 85% of public universities, but only 66% of private universities (NACADA, 2011). An aspiring administrator may need to consider these factors (e.g., public/private, level of research activity, prevalence of faculty advisors) when seeking out positions of advanced responsibility.

Advising administrator roles can differ greatly depending on the size of the institution and structure of the advising operation. For example, advising services can be executed quite differently at a large, public, research-oriented university than a small, private college that is primarily geared towards teaching liberal arts majors. Leading an advising operation at a large college may involve directing several professional staff members and administrative support staff, where the purpose of the staff is to advise all undergraduate students in a university, college, or department. Davis (2008) indicates that at a public university, the administrator must balance supervision of professional staff as well as serving as an advocate for advising across campus. At a small college, an advising administrator’s role may be to support and develop faculty advisors with few additional staff resources. The small college advising director may be the only full-time advising staff person on campus. According to Christman (2008), “An advising administrator’s job within a small college or university setting is often a solo operation involving multiple responsibilities” (p. 449).

Not everyone is well suited for an advising administrative position at a large college or university. Likewise, the small college setting may not be ideal for everyone. It is critically important that administrator candidates understand their ideal setting and organizational dynamics before seeking a new position. Before pursuing a path to administration, consider networking with advising administrators to ascertain what their roles are actually like. Conduct some informational interviews, apply for the NACADA Emerging Leader program, and get involved at the state and regional level in NACADA to meet advisors and administrators at other institutions to learn more about the pros and cons of working in these diverse settings. 

Human resource management competencies
Those seeking to be an administrator in any setting will need to employ a wide variety of human resource management skills in order to be successful. For example, future large college advising administrators will likely supervise professional staff. Brush up on human resource basics (e.g., how to conduct an effective performance appraisal, how to motivate employees, and how to set goals for your staff, among other areas). Performance appraisal basics are relatively common-sense, but not commonly practiced. Employee feedback should be given consistently throughout the year, not at one annual feedback meeting. Performance appraisals and feedback should be done privately, fairly, and with concrete examples. Throughout the year, praise staff publicly, and when corrective action needs to be taken, do so privately (Longenecker, 2005; Longenecker & Post, 2006; Latha, Almost, Mann & Moore, 2005). Be aware that direct reports may react differently to positive and negative feedback based on their generational type (i.e., Baby Boomers, Generation X). Advising administrators may need to ask staff directly how they best receive feedback, and their approach to leading staff may be different for each individual (Steele & Gordon, 2006). When administrators need to hire individuals for their office, they should know in advance the qualities they seek in the next person to work under them (Chalmer, 2005).

Regardless of whether advising administrators supervise professional staff or not in their future administrator position, they will likely need to train advisors. When developing a training program, it is important to know the audience and their experience level, model interactive learning, develop handouts and materials, and deliver the training in small groups so they have the opportunity to ask questions (Borns, 2002; McClellan, 2007). It is important to know that training does not need to be expensive; ongoing advisor training can be as simple as meeting monthly to go over some scenario-based issues, discussing issues over lunch, and creating job aids to be alongside advisors’ desks for easy reference (Filipczak, 1996).

Advisors seeking advancement into an advising administrator position should be congratulated on their ambition and desire to make a difference at the leadership level. To summarize, here are some important notes to be aware of in this new position: 

  • Soft skills are highly important at any level but become more useful in higher levels of administration. All leaders should polish their emotional intelligence and conflict resolution skills.
  • Own the position. Leaders who achieve extraordinary results are the ones who truly own their position, take charge, and decide the results they seek to achieve (Cloud, 2013).
  • Be conversant in all facets of the college’s administration, including assessment plans, curriculum, how to train staff (namely advisors), and budget operations (Borns, 2007). Because administering a budget is so important, acquire budgeting experience before seeking higher positions.
  • Build relationships with key players that associate with the position. Those relationships will assist in promoting ideas and vision.
  • Create small goals. This will allow administrators to feel more accomplished and also focus on the important tasks at hand.
  • Do a S.W.O.T (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the office. This approach allows an analytical analysis of where to start.

We hope that these points of advice listed above might prove to be useful, specifically in the HR-related activities that might be conducted as an advising administrator and managing the stress that they will face in a higher level position.

Authored by:
Robert Detwiler
Director of Student Support Services
Siena Heights University

Wiona Porath
Director of Academic Advising
Siena Heights University


Borns, R. F. (2002). Creating an academic advising training program on your campus, The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Retrieved from

Borns, R.F. (2007). Primer for New Academic Advising Administrators. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

Chalmer, L.C. (2005). An Advising Administrator's Duty: Hiring. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

Christman, Phillip D. (2008). Four-Year Private Institutions. In V.N. Gordon, W.R. Habley, T.J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: a comprehensive handbook (pp. 438-444). San Francisco, CA: Josse-Bass. 

Cloud, H. (2013). Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge. New York: HarperCollins.

Davis, Kathy J. (2008). Four-Year Public. In V.N. Gordon, W.R. Habley, T.J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: a comprehensive handbook (pp. 438-444). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Filipczak, B. (1996). “Training on the Cheap.” Training, May 1996, pp. 28-34. 

Hill, L. A. (1992). Becoming a Manager: Mastery of a New Identity. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Latham, G. P., Almost, J., Mann, S., & Moore, C. (2005). “New Developments in Performance Management.” Organizational Dynamics, 34(1), pp. 77-87.

Longenecker, C. O. (2005). “Managerial Performance Appraisals: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” HR Advisor, May/June 2005, pp. 19-26.

Longenecker, C. O., & Post, F. R. (2006). “Legal and Effective Performance Appraisals.” Journal of Compensation and Benefits, May/June 1996, pp. 41-46.

McClellan, J.L. (2007). Content Components for Advisor Training: Revisited. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

NACADA (2011). 2011 Survey of Academic Advising; Chapter 6: Professional Advisor Load. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Steele, M. J. & Gordon, V. N. (2006). Advising in a Multigenerational Workplace. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

Cite this using APA style:

Detwiler, Robert and Wiona Porath (2015).  Suceeding in the move from advisor to administrator. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website

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