Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the centre of excellence
It is a real privilege to be vice-chancellor of the University of Bath, living in one of the world’s most beautiful cities and leading one of the UK’s most successful universities. The role is demanding, but the environment is stimulating and, like many of my colleagues, I truly enjoy what I do.
The level of job satisfaction is even greater now than when I arrived some 15 years ago; the university has risen through the rankings, become increasingly international and the partnership with the city has blossomed.
The university’s success is intrinsically linked to the city. The fantastic location and excellent infrastructure enable us to attract the best and brightest minds to Bath and, in turn, we make a significant contribution to the local economy.
Our 50th anniversary this year provides us with an opportunity to celebrate our considerable achievements but also say ‘thank you’ to our supporters in the city.
I would love to say that being a vice-chancellor was always my vocation and the result of a well-executed strategy but, had you asked me earlier in my career, I would not have expected to be in this position today. I expected to be a researcher and a psychologist – a professor maybe. But universities are dynamic and challenging places which open up a world of opportunities and enable people to achieve their potential – often in ways they do not expect.
I’m a social psychologist first and foremost, and still an active researcher. My work focuses on leadership, identity processes and risk management. The key thing I have learned is that there is no single leadership style that good leaders adopt. Over time the organisation that you lead changes, and you also change as a leader.
I adopt what in psychology is labelled a ‘contingent leadership’ approach – it is shaped to the needs of the situation and to the team around me. Experienced, successful leaders tend to change the nature of their approach according to the problem, the people they’re working with, and to the goal they wish to achieve.
Working within a university, I am fortunate to be surrounded by a community of people with a wealth of knowledge in many different fields. I try to mobilise that talent to the greater good of the university.
“Experienced, successful leaders tend to change the nature of their approach according to the problem, the people they’re working with and to the goal they wish to achieve”
One of the things that most inspires me as a leader is the dedication of all of our staff and students, no matter where they come from or what they do here. It is this real sense of community and collaboration at our university, combined with our natural curiosity and ambition, which has led to our success so far.
We have many talented people who are focused on the experience we offer our students and on the quality of our research for example. I trust them to do the things at which they excel. My role is to identify the threats, deviations or undercurrents that might take us off our charted course. This has not been an easy task in recent months.
We know that the next few years will herald significant political and economic change. It is vital to be clearer than ever about our future goals. My job as Vice-Chancellor is to ensure we can continue to do our cutting edge-research and excellent teaching in the face of a changing political and economic landscape.
Of course, with change comes not just risk but also opportunity. Leadership works best when it can judge the risks and seize the opportunities.
I’m really proud that the University of Bath has established itself as excellent in both teaching and research. We know we want to continue to grow our research power. That means bringing more talented academics and postgraduate students to Bath. They will join others already here who are solving problems that matter to the world.
Understanding autism at our newly-opened Centre for Applied Autism Research, developing new techniques for the early detection of conditions such as Alzheimer’s, helping to create new types of sustainable, affordable homes and reducing vehicle emission rates; these are just a few of the solutions we are developing.
Excellence and impact will remain our watchwords as we reach our 50th anniversary in October. Our future success is going to depend on us remaining a vibrant and integrated international community, based here in Bath but looking outward.