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Managing the Middle

SIOP Member Earns Award for Research on Mid-Level Leaders

by Stephany Schings, Communications Specialist

While working on her PhD in School Psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, SIOP member Melanie Flanders spent a year focusing intently on university professionals.

This wasn’t simply because she was learning from them. Flanders was also working to collect data on mid-level managers in higher education for her doctoral dissertation, "Characteristics of Effective Mid-Level Leaders in Higher Education."

Flanders collected data from mid-level leaders as well as upper-level administrators across four different campuses of a Mid-western university system. This research on mid-level leaders, she said, is lacking in the field.

“It’s kind of a niche that not many people have researched; it’s kind of an area that hasn’t been explored,” Flanders said. “A lot has been done in private industry, but not higher education.”

Flanders used the Lominger Leadership Suite to develop a success profile of mid-level leaders in higher education. Some of the top competencies that were considered most important for success as a mid-level leader were integrity, trust, ethics and values.

“I wasn’t surprised that these competencies surfaced as most important for success,” Flanders said. “It did stand out to me that these competencies that were rated as most important for success also may be some of the more difficult competencies to develop.”

Flanders said it is important to study mid-level leaders for specific reasons.

“Mid-level leaders are often the people who have to administer the policies created by upper-level administrators,” Flanders explained. “Some of the challenges mid-level leaders face may be seen as unique in that mid-level leaders are sandwiched between entry-level workers and upper-level administration. This dynamic presents challenges that require a set of skills unique to this level in the organizational structure.”

Flander’s research and success profile has already been put to use in shaping current and future leadership programs at Missouri, and Flanders was also recently recognized publicly for her dissertation and research.

She won one of the Society of Consulting Psychology’s two highest honors, the RHR International Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award for 2008. The award is given to a doctoral student or recent graduate for exemplary research contributing to the theory or practice of consulting psychology.

Sponsored by RHR International Company, the awards were presented at the annual American Psychological Association convention. As this year’s winner of the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award, she will present her paper at the 2009 APA annual meeting.

“It was nice to do a research project where I knew that someone was interested in what I discovered,” Flanders said.


Flanders is a facilitator with Sentis, a firm of psychologists and safety professionals who specialize in enhancing safety and leadership performance.