Aarhus Universitets segl

Educational Leadership at Danish universities
– A study of employees with an add-on responsibility

Educational leadership has over the last two decades 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 special responsible employees.

In research, educational leadership is a broad concept that often refers to both formal and informal leaders in the same study (E.g., Bryman, 2007; Grunefeld et al., 2017), if these different leaders have to do with influencing the goal-directed behaviour of others (Bryman, 2007, pp. 694-695). This, regardless that informal leaders have different possibilities than formal leaders for influencing the behaviour of others within the decision authority of higher education institutions.

The informal leader is namely still a teacher even though they are formally appointed to take an add-on responsibility, handling educational leadership. They are expected to be a colleague without being a part of the collegial community and at the same time lead without being a leader. The role is thus neither compatible with colleges nor with management but becomes a role ‘in itself’. This notion is an important gap in the current understanding.

With an organisational phenomenon where the role and function are understood as a role and function ‘in itself,’ the project is not interested in personal preferences or how the individual performs the role but how organisations as social systems with a formalised membership actualise and enable the role and function.

This generates two overall research questions:

  • How are employee roles with an add-on responsibility constructed as a solution to which problems?
  • How can employee roles with an add-on responsibility 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 observations, consisting of observations, audio diaries, interviews, and a survey. Each observation has its different points of scientific knowledge.

  • Observation and audio diaries are observing action communication
    • Observations: Observing formal meetings
    • Audio Diary: Observing ad-hoc tasks
  • Interviews are observing verbal communication
  • 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 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 a quite implicit and hence, invisible organisational role to understand the role’s organisational contribution and how the role adequately can 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 Danish universities operationalising the Danish Framework for Advancing University Pedagogy.

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