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The EDULEAD project
– A study of academics with add-on responsibilities

Over the last two to three decades, educational leadership has become a common answer to quality demands in higher education. In everyday practice, the concept is often associated with hierarchical structures through distributed leadership with the premise that management can delegate some of their decision-making power to employees with add-on responsibilities. As such these employees are appointed to take on the role of 'educational leaders'.

In research, educational leaders’ roles are often used without making the distinction between formal and non-formal leaders (E.g., Bryman, 2007; Grunefeld et al., 2017). This is despite the fact that – as opposed to formal leaders – non-formal leaders have different decision-making authority and opportunities in terms of their ability to influence the behaviour of others.

The non-formal leaders are primarily still researchers and teachers even though they are formally appointed to take on add-on responsibilities and handle educational leadership. They are a colleague without being a part of the collegial community and, at the same time, they lead without being a leader. Thus, their role is neither a colleague nor manager, but a role in itself. This is an important notion to consider when bridging the gap in the current understanding.

This project seeks to examine how organisations as social systems actualise and enable the role and function of the educational leader.

The two overall research questions are:

  • How are employee roles at universities with an add-on responsibility for education and teaching constructed as a solution to which problems?
  • How can employee roles at universities with an add-on responsibility for education and teaching adequately contribute to professional and educational development through collegial forms of collaboration?


The study is inspired by systems theory and built on a functionalist method. Methodologically, the study is based on an oscillation between different kinds of methods; observations, audio diaries, interviews, and a survey. Each method has its different points of scientific knowledge:

  • Observations, observing formal meetings.
  • Audio diaries, observing ad-hoc tasks.
  • Interviews, observing personal understandings. 
  • Survey, observing theme recognition.
    • Condensed themes from the qualitative study are gathered in a questionnaire aimed at a wider range of informants about theme recognition.

The project includes 15 participants – three educational leaders from each of the five faculties at Aarhus University (Arts, Health, Natural Sciences, Technical Sciences, and Aarhus BSS).

Moreover, a colleague and a manager related to each of the educational leaders, participate as interviewees to get different perspectives on the educational leader’s role.


The project contributes to a new understanding of educational leadership by observing the concept from a non-leadership perspective. From an organisational perspective, the project aims to highlight an implicit and hence, invisible organisational role to understand the role’s organisational contribution and how the role can adequately operate.

Furthermore, the study intends to be practice-oriented and therefore generate context-sensitive research that, through general characteristics, can construct resonance in specific practices. Moreover, this perspective also addresses and aims to meet the work of Universities Denmark operationalising the Danish framework for advancing university pedagogy.