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Nurse Educator:
doi: 10.1097/NNE.0000000000000031
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A Solution to the Shortage of Nursing Faculty: Awareness and Understanding of the Leadership Style of the Nursing Department Head

Byrne, Daria M. EdD, RN; Martin, Barbara N. EdD

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Author Information

Author Affiliations: Associate Professor (Dr Byrne), Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences, Kansas City, Missouri; and Professor (Dr Martin), University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Dr Byrne, Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences, 624 Westport Rd, Kansas City, MO 64111 (

Accepted for publication: February 10, 2014

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The purpose of this research was to determine if there was a relationship between the leadership style of the nursing department head and the level of professional satisfaction and organizational commitment by nursing faculty members. The survey instrument was designed to measure the department heads’ leadership style as perceived by the nursing faculty and assess the nursing faculty members’ level of professional satisfaction and organizational commitment. Five schools of nursing in 2 Midwestern states, with a total of 52 full-time baccalaureate nursing faculty, were the focus of the inquiry. Findings support statistically significant relationships between the 3 variables of department head leadership, organizational commitment, and professional satisfaction. Implications for leadership style exhibited by the nursing department head are discussed.

The United States is in the midst of a critical shortage of RNs.1 In addition, professional nursing education faced innumerable obstacles at the onset of the 21st century including a shortage of qualified nurses.2 This shortage of RNs has resulted in the call for educational programs to increase the number of RN graduates; however, the nursing faculty shortage has limited student enrollments and has contributed to the decline in the number of nursing graduates.3 The latest study from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing4 revealed the current nursing faculty vacancy rate is at 6.9% with approximately 880 total vacancies in schools and programs of nursing in the United States. Various factors have contributed to the nursing faculty shortage including the number of individuals desiring to enter the profession, an inadequate number of teaching facilities, a decrease in the number of clinical sites, and an overall decrease in the availability of qualified nursing faculty.4 Furthermore, noncompetitive salaries, unreasonable classroom and clinical responsibilities,5 and the obscure match between clinical practice and promotion and tenure requirements threaten not only nursing education but also, through an obvious linkage, nursing practice and the overarching nursing profession.

Awareness regarding the nursing faculty shortage has entered public discussion, and policy makers are aware that the ever-increasing nursing shortage cannot be adequately addressed while an insufficient number of nursing faculty members exists.6 Accordingly, it is essential the nursing school department head be aware of professional dissatisfiers so as to “institute changes that might attract and retain qualified nurse educators.”7(p1003)

Unfortunately, many administrators in higher education generally8-10 and nursing education specifically11-13 have no formal leadership education or training. Academic leaders are often chosen based solely on academic accolades, rather than leadership experience,14 as evidenced by Bright and Richards,15 who compared the most common course to deanship as the accidental tourist—leaders begin as faculty, progress to departmental administration or faculty governance roles and then to the deanship.

Consequently, the following research questions guided this study:

1. What is the relationship between leadership style (transactional or transformational) of the nursing department head and nursing faculty professional satisfaction?

2. What is the relationship between leadership style (transactional or transformational) of the nursing department head and nursing faculty organizational commitment?

3. What is the relationship between nursing faculty professional satisfaction and nursing faculty organizational commitment?

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Conceptual Framework

According to Tichy and Devanna,16 leaders “create new approaches and imagine new areas to explore; they relate to people in more intuitive and empathetic ways, seek risk where opportunity and reward are high, and project ideas into images to excite people.”16(page ix) While many definitions of leadership have been identified, effective leadership practices have been the focus of much of the research.17 Researchers have asserted transactional leaders are preoccupied with doing things right, while transformational leaders are motivated to do the right thing.18,19 Furthermore, several inquiries revealed transformational leadership (TL) was 1 leadership style that is effective in leading an organization in a time of change20,21 such as the nursing faculty shortage.6

Specifically, Bass22 conceptualized leadership theory in terms of transactional and transformational characteristics. The components of TL enhance the effectiveness in motivating and encouraging followers to a full commitment to the vision of the leader.20 Because nursing education is faced with a dilemma of noncompetitive salaries, unreasonable classroom and clinical responsibilities,5 a decrease in the number of individuals desiring to enter the profession, an inadequate number of teaching facilities, a decrease in the number of clinical sites, and an overall decrease in the availability of qualified nursing faculty,3 a strong leader in a tumultuous environment is needed. In particular, the nursing department head has the opportunity to influence the organizational culture in a positive manner, thereby influencing the quality of nursing education and subsequently the nursing profession. Because past research20,23 demonstrated that TL was effective in influencing followers from basic compliance of the vision of the leader to an active participant and follower of the vision of the leader, the focus of this study is TL and its counterpart, transactional leadership.

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Transformational Leadership

Shieh et al24 asserted nursing leaders have a significant impact in the delivery of high-quality education and raising faculty job satisfaction levels. Because nursing educators influence patient care delivery by its graduates, it is essential quality in nursing education is maintained. TL stimulates feelings of trust, admiration, loyalty, and respect toward the leader, motivating subordinates to do more than they originally believed possible.25 With nursing faculty experiencing unreasonable classroom and clinical responsibilities as well as noncompetitive salaries,4 the department head is charged with motivating subordinates to move beyond what one originally believed possible. The transformational leader transforms and motivates followers by encouraging them to place the interest of the organization above their own and appealing to their higher-order needs.26 Furthermore, a plethora of research demonstrated the positive effect of TL on the variables of subordinate satisfaction, performance, and effectiveness.27-32

Within this theory of TL, 4 distinct types of behaviors were identified by Bass33 and Bass and Avolio.34 Idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration arose from the original work of Bass.22 The 4th behavior, inspirational motivation, was an outcome of the revised theory by Bass and Avolio.34 These components make transformational leaders effective in motivation and empowering followers to a full commitment to the vision of the leader.20 However, transformational leaders display these behaviors to varying degrees and abilities.

Idealized influence refers to the attributes and behaviors of the transformational leader. Socialized charismatic leader action is imperative to the transformational leader35 and is an essential component to arousing subordinates to exceed expectations.22,36 The most compelling factor of TL37 is charisma, yet that factor cannot stand alone.22,38

Equally important, for the transformational leaders to heighten individual and team commitment, is inspirational motivation.39 Inspirational motivation as exhibited by the leader rousing followers to transcend ambitious goals by heightening their expectations.35 As a result, followers exert additional effort on behalf of the organization, resulting in increased self-worth, job performance, and organizational commitment.22

Likewise, the transformational leader uses intellectual stimulation encouraging subordinates to be proactive, creative, and innovative in their thinking.22 Enhancing the capabilities of the follower to seek alternate perspectives and development of new ways to perform job roles enhances variety and autonomy,35,40 ultimately providing workers with an increased feeling of accomplishment and professional reward.41 If problems arise, leaders focus on “what” problems instead of “who’s to blame.” If necessary, the views of the leader can be questioned, reevaluated, and altered.42 As a result, creative thinking is enhanced, which leads to greater product innovation and positive effects for their organizations.42

Subsequently, the concern for the needs of the subordinate as a person and employee, in addition to mentoring, coaching, and teaching, reflects the behavior of individualized consideration.40,43 As a result of this factor, the subordinate feels “trust, admiration, loyalty, and respect toward the leader”25(p262) as followers have a sense that their leader is caring for their individualized needs.41

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Transactional Leadership

Conversely, transactional leadership is associated with a leader-follower transaction or exchange that may stimulate compliance with the bottom line, but not necessarily stimulate enthusiasm or commitment on behalf of the subordinate.25 Leadership behaviors of transactional leaders include active management by exception, passive management by exception, and contingent reward.

Active management by exception33 involves proactive intervention by the manager focusing on monitoring task execution for any mistakes or complaints that were likely to occur before problems arose.22 Leaders engaging in this type of behavior are often regarded as critical or punishing,34 only rewarding followers when agreed upon objectives are achieved.22 However, with the concern that novice faculty are not being appropriately mentored,4 it is necessary to acknowledge that mentoring, coaching, and teaching garner a sense of commitment and dedication from followers,40,43 but only when such actions are used appropriately by the department head and/or designated persons responsible for the mentoring of novice faculty.

Found to be ineffective and often resulting in subordinate stress, anxiety, and hostility when overused is the transactional leadership behavior of passive management by exception.26 This is a negative transaction as the reactive leader only used correcting action when problems arise or performance is not as expected.44 Novice faculty members, who are ill prepared for the challenges of nursing education,4 need to be proactively mentored and acculturated into the academic nursing environment, not reactively remediated when errors or lack of performance is displayed.

In the same way, contingent reward is based on economical and emotional exchanges between leaders and followers in an exchange-based relationship.25,45,46 Furthermore, contingent reward uses incentives and rewards, including money, praise, or promotion to motivate followers to complete required work.42,46 Recent budget cuts and constraints within the higher-education setting limit monetary rewards used as a motivational tool for higher-education professionals; therefore, it is essential to evaluate other motivational means used by the nursing department head other than incentives and rewards.

Despite the dearth of research on leadership theory in nursing academic leaders, one can attempt to understand how leadership style can have an influence on the professional satisfaction and organizational commitment of subordinates. Paying particular attention to the leadership style of the nursing department head may provide the opportunity for nursing programs to evaluate leadership style as a determining factor in the attrition and/or retention of qualified nursing faculty. As Gormley47 postulated, the behavior of the “dean or chairperson… strongly influences nursing faculty job satisfaction.”47(p177) Furthermore, the correlation between the leadership style and the impact the leader has on the organizational culture may contribute to professional satisfaction, thus decreasing nursing faculty attrition rates and increasing organizational commitment. Research suggests that in environments where the department head was perceived to be impersonal and aloof in dealing with nursing faculty, overall job satisfaction decreased,48 subsequently resulting in organizational attrition. At a minimum, evaluation of these factors will create awareness surrounding this intensifying issue “as the current [nursing] faculty workforce rapidly advances toward retirement and the pool of younger faculty dwindles.”49(p50) Thus, we examined leadership theory, specifically transformational and transactional leadership theories, as the conceptual underpinnings of this study will guide future research and assist in filling the void in the literature related to nursing education.

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Population and Sample

The population for this investigation involved nursing faculty members, holding no administrative titles, from 5 universities with schools of nursing located in 4 cities, residing in 2 different Midwestern states. In this Midwest region, 87 cities, urban and rural, and 15 counties comprise the greater metropolitan area.50,51 The intent of analyzing programs found within the greater metropolitan area is of significant interest because the vacancy rate in this region is 9.2%, higher than the national average of 6.9%.4

The purposive sample population, used to meet practical study requirements,52 included faculty members in such positions titled as instructors, assistant professors, associate professors, and professors. The sample was purposive in that the pool of potential faculty members represented the range of nursing faculty and sites that reflected the widest variation of the larger population under study52 and “directly reflect the purpose of this study and guide in the identification of information.”53(p61) The sample was 52 full-time baccalaureate nursing faculty participants, with each identifying himself or herself as a professor, associate professor, assistant professor, or instructor.

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Based on a literature review of the main constructs of leadership, professional satisfaction, and organizational commitment, a 4-point Likert scale questionnaire, the Leadership Style, Organizational Commitment, and Professional Satisfaction Questionnaire (LSOCPS), was designed. The content validity of the questionnaire was established by cross-referencing generated statements to the literature.22,35,41,42,45,46,54-57 Furthermore, the LSOCPS was field tested and judged by a sample population to ensure the survey’s face and content validity58 and clarity. Reliability was established through a test-retest method,59,60 which is the most commonly used indicator of survey instrument reliability.61 The sample group for the test-retest process consisted of 12 RNs completing the survey on 2 separate occasions and a period of 2 weeks separating the survey completion. “In general, r values are considered good if they equal or excelled 0.70.”61(p8) The Pearson correlation for the separate administrations of the test was r = 0.914, demonstrating good test-retest reliability.

The survey was designed to investigate the correlation among the independent variables, transformational and transactional leadership theory (questions 1-20), and the dependent variables, professional satisfaction (questions 21-28) and organizational commitment (questions 29-36). The LSOCPS required respondents to decide whether they lean more toward the “agree” or “disagree” end of the scale for each item. Respondents in this study assessed their level of agreement to the statement by indicating a 1 for “agree,” a 2 indicating “tend to agree,” a 3 indicating “tend to disagree,” and a 4 indicating “disagree.”

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Analysis of Data

A quantitative design was utilized in this study to support the strength of the argument “particularly the soundness of its logic and the quality of its evidence.”62(p241) For research questions 1 and 2, the Kruskal-Wallis test and Pearson correlation coefficient were conducted. A Pearson correlation, r, was utilized to evaluate the strength of the correlation and to determine significance for each of the leadership styles in relationship to organizational commitment and professional satisfaction.57 Moreover, for research question 3, again a Pearson correlation, r, was utilized to analyze the nonparametric data collected at the ordinal level of measure.58 The test determined the correlational relationship among the dependent variables, professional satisfaction and organizational commitment. The degree of significance was determined at .05.

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The majority of participants (76.9%) rated their supervisors as having a predominately transactional leadership style. To determine the relationship between leadership style and professional satisfaction, a Kruskal-Wallis test was conducted. No significant difference was found, H1 = 2.16, P > .05, thus indicating there was no relationship between the type of leadership style and professional satisfaction.

To further determine the relationship between professional satisfaction and the 2 leadership styles, transactional and transformational, a Pearson r was conducted. The Pearson r revealed a significant positive relationship between TL and professional satisfaction r = 0.62, P < .001. The Pearson r revealed a significant negative relationship between transactional leadership and professional satisfaction r = −0.46, P < .05.

Next analyzed was leadership style of the department head and the nursing faculty organizational commitment. No significant difference was found, H1 = 2.77, P > .05, thus indicating there was no relationship between the type of leadership style and organizational commitment.

To further determine the relationship between organizational commitment and the 2 styles of leadership, transactional and transformational, a Pearson r was conducted. The Pearson r revealed a significant positive relationship between TL and organizational commitment r = 0.51, P < .001. The Pearson r revealed a significant negative relationship between transactional leadership and organizational commitment r = −0.54, P < .001.

Last analyzed were the variables of the nursing faculty professional satisfaction and nursing faculty organizational commitment. To determine the relationship between organizational commitment and professional satisfaction a Pearson r was conducted. The Pearson r revealed a significant relationship r = 0.63, P < .001, indicating a relationship between organizational commitment and professional satisfaction.

These findings supported the belief that transformational leaders have a positive influence on professional satisfaction and organizational commitment, whereas transactional leaders have a negative impact on professional satisfaction and organizational commitment. However, the null hypotheses were retained based on the Kruskal-Wallis statistical analysis test, which demonstrated no significant difference in the professional satisfaction and organizational commitment of nursing faculty members regardless if they perceived their leader as a transformational or transactional leader. In addition, revealed in this data set are the notions that professional satisfaction influences organizational commitment and vice versa.

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While the leadership style of the department head did not demonstrate a direct relationship on professional satisfaction and organizational commitment, the greater the faculty member perceived the department head to be a transformational leader, the greater their professional satisfaction and organizational commitment. In addition, the greater the faculty member perceived the department head to be a transactional leader, the professional satisfaction and organizational commitment of the nursing faculty were not enhanced. Furthermore, a transactional leadership style was predominantly demonstrated by nursing department heads as perceived by their faculty. This could be deemed a concern for the future of nursing because of the need for a leadership style that influences follower performance and innovation, team cohesiveness, and organizational learning and impacts organizational change such as that of TL.63-66 Although Bass22 noted all leaders are transactional to some extent and Yukl25 asserted “effective leaders use a combination of both types of leadership,”25(p262) transactional leadership is not the recommended leadership practice to move nursing education forward, given that the style has been associated with poor attitudes and decreased work performance among followers.22,54,67-69 Understanding the professional satisfiers of nursing faculty and how leadership style impacts those satisfiers is essential in order to retain and attract qualified baccalaureate nursing faculty.

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Implications for Practice

The findings reiterate the importance of formal leadership training and preparation in order to lead nursing education through turbulent times. The finding that the overwhelming percentage of perceived leadership style of the nursing department head was transactional leadership (76.9%) indicates the need for department head search committees to incorporate strategies that allow the identification of the style of the candidates. In addition, once selected, the need for leadership training or awareness of one’s style is essential for department heads.

Subsequently, it is essential to garner a sense of understanding as to the professional satisfiers and dissatisfiers of nursing faculty. Cultivating an environment in education that promotes professional satisfaction is essential for the continual growth and sustenance of an organization specifically as nursing professionals attempt to “refocus [their] lens” to solve the faculty shortage issue.70 As more and more novice faculty members transition to nursing education, there is a greater need for tenured and experienced faculty to proactively mentor and acculturate less experienced nursing faculty into the academic nursing environment.4

Nursing department heads are burdened with numerous responsibilities including promoting the vision articulated by upper management,71 policy making and analysis, program development and evaluation, faculty mentoring and advocacy, mediation between administration and faculty,8 strategic planning, mission development, salary decisions, and personnel management and training.72 Consequently, faculty management may be one of the most, if not the most, important responsibility for the department head in order to deter employee attrition and to defy intellectual drain resulting from employee departure.73 Because there are many challenges facing nursing education, the time to “refocus our lens”70(p244) to solve the nursing faculty shortage is imminent, and the leadership style of the department chair might just be one of the solutions.

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