Student Affairs Leadership: How to Successfully Manage Your First Team

As a new student affairs professional, managing a team all on your own might be uncharted territory. It can be a nerve-wracking experience to suddenly be responsible for so many employees looking to you for feedback and guidance. But you’re ready for the challenge! 

Thanks to your training and education in student affairs, you are more than equipped to be an effective team leader. It’s all about honing in your strategy and following through with the application. Follow these eight leadership best practices to help successfully manage your first student affairs team. 

1. Set expectations Early with Your Student Affairs Team

Whether you’ll be working in operations or a residence hall, your team members need to know what is expected of them. Don’t be shy, let them know what your expectations are from the start. Review the university policies for working with students, this is only going to help everyone in the long run. Your team will know exactly what they need to do, and you’ll have your bases covered.

Inform your team members of your goals for the greater team. This could be shared verbally during a group meeting, presented in a PowerPoint deck for your employees who prefer visual insight, or a document they can refer to whenever they need to brush up. Remind them of their mission to help serve students, and establish long-term goals alongside expectations. By providing them this context your team members will continually see greater value in their work.

2. Prioritize Transparency with Your Staff and be an Open Communicator

According to data from the Queens University of Charlotte, 27% of employees get communication training, and only about that many employees feel confident in their communication capabilities at work. With that in mind, continually make sure to prioritize staff communication to help gain confidence as a communicator. Be as transparent as you can with your team. Communicate any relevant information that you have for them in a timely fashion. This will encourage them to come to you with any information without fear or anxiety.

Additionally, spend time with your team members through one-on-one meetings. Engage with them and ask them about their professional goals. By knowing more about your staff members, you can also provide opportunities for them. This will not only help them develop professionally but shape your professional experiences and enhance your own mentorship, leadership, and communicative skills.

3. Build Trust Within Your Team Dynamic and Avoid Micromanagement 

You can’t have a flourishing team without trust between you and your staff. Trust starts with your ability to be open and honest. From there, maintaining consistency and communication. How do you do that? Give your team members the agency to do their jobs. Trust in their work, and avoid micromanaging their efforts. Remember, there’s a reason you and your leadership team hired them. They have made a stellar first impression, they have a promising resume, so allow them to utilize their professional potential. 

Staff members who feel trusted to do their work will have greater confidence in their jobs. No matter if they are helping students as resident advisors (RAs) or contacting alumni for fundraising opportunities. Be fair and supportive of every member of the team. You’ll earn their trust and respect by trusting them and giving them the opportunity to deliver and demonstrate their talents. 

4. Encourage Your Student Affairs Team to Take Ownership, and Delegate Your Tasks

Once you’re ready to do so, delegate tasks to your team. It can be hard to let go of administrative or operational tasks you feel comfortable doing yourself. But, it can free up pivotal time on your schedule to focus on strategic aspects, while providing opportunities for your staff to expand their professional development. 

By doing so, you’ll help your staff foster new skills and expand their resumes. Not to mention, delegating tasks will show firsthand how much you trust your team members and boost confidence among your staff.

5. Provide Useful Feedback and Support Staff with Their Professional Growth

Talented communicators are also excellent at providing feedback. If your team member is doing an incredible job, tell them! You will not only reassure them, but it’ll also raise employee morale to continue to work hard and excel in their role.

On a different note, you can’t be afraid to provide feedback to team members who may be struggling in their roles. If a task isn’t being done correctly, in a professional and supportive manner let them know what they can do to improve. They might need a nudge in the right direction to help correct mistakes or work more effectively. Practice makes perfect, so give them the time and support to excel in the workplace. Be there to offer guidance and help navigate their role along the way.

6. Practice What You Preach, be a Role Model to Your Peers

Talking about leadership qualities is one thing, possessing them is another. Always consider yourself a role model while in the workplace. Your team members are looking to you to see if you can stand by your principles and work ethic. Words don’t mean much if you aren’t actively sticking to your words and demonstrating what it takes to be a successful leader and impactful team member.

7. Continue Networking Within the Student Affairs Field

Managing an effective team shouldn’t be in a silo. An effective student affairs leader is always networking. Find ways to integrate your team with another team on campus for further engagement and collaboration. You might come up with a fun event or streamline your processes together. Who knows, you may even come across a new mentor for yourself or staff members.

8. Advocate for Yourself and Meet with Your Manager for Beneficial Insight and Mentorship 

Managing a team is no easy feat. If you don’t already have one set up, see if you can schedule a regular one-on-one with your manager. Talking to a higher-up can help keep yourself accountable. If you’re coming across challenges in your leadership role, they can provide insight to help you take on the challenge.

Be sure to schedule self-care for yourself as well. As much as you’d love a detailed plan for every moment of your first year, contingencies happen. Prepare for surprises, issues, and budget cuts down the road. Regardless of your obstacles, successful student affairs professionals have strong leadership skills. Through practicing these qualities, you and your new team will be a critical asset to your campus community.