Managing the Registrar’s Office

J. James Wager, Consultant & Education Strategist

July 25, 2017

Someone at your institution recognizes your capabilities, skills, and qualities and has appointed you as the Registrar.  So now what!

As the manager of the Registrar’s office, you have the responsibility of getting things done through the performance of other people and of implementing the classical four-part management process:

Setting performance standards and deciding how to achieve them.  One of the most significant operational planning functions is establishing a financial budget including controllable/uncontrollable costs and revenue sources (i.e. sale of transcripts, replacement diplomas).  Other operational planning efforts include establishing the academic calendar, matching enrollments with needed course offerings, and balancing the course offering with available classrooms.  Longer term, strategic planning includes the implementation of new technology solutions and systems.

Aligning tasks, people, and resources to accomplish the stated purpose of the Registrar’s office.  Will the office structure be tall or flat, what will be the responsibility of associate/assistant registrars, will staff patterns change, will the office employ part-time help and student workers?  What are the staff development plans needed to advance current staff to be ready for future challenges and functional requirements?  These are significant questions that require direction from the Registrar.

Inspiring the work force to work hard and achieve high performance.  More about this in the next article.

Measuring performance and taking actions to ensure desired results.  Are budgets on track, are staff goals being achieved, are students/faculty/alumni being served?  What are the measures of productivity?  Is the organization being both efficient (minimizing resource consumption) and effective (achieving goals and objectives).  Are there opportunities to utilize techniques such as The User Experience and Total Quality Management

As the office manager, the Registrar is constantly working within an organizational framework referred to as the “Manager’s Challenge,” as depicted here.  The Registrar reports to a senior officer that expects a full measure of accountability.  Reporting to the Registrar are office staff that depend on the Registrar for direction and guidance in the performance of their respective responsibilities.  The Registrar is evaluated based on the successful utilization of resource and funding resources to produce institution determined performance and results.  While some may conclude the Registrar is caught in the middle, a better perspective is that the Registrar is in the enviable position of managing one of the most significant offices of the institution.

Multiple Roles

Registrar’s are increasingly responsible for multiple managerial roles.  As described above, Registrar’s hold line-manager responsibilities for the direct contributions and performance of the Registrar’s office.  These traditional and long-standing responsibilities date back many decades.  Specific form and function of these line responsibilities vary from institution to institution, but typically include primary tasks of student registration, classroom scheduling, graduation, transcripts/verifications, degree audit, and academic record maintenance.

It has become quite common for the Registrar to also hold an additional title and applicable managerial responsibilities.  Titles such as assistant/associate dean/vice-president/provost are quite common.  These titles represent staff manager responsibilities in areas of enrollment management, information technology, student success, retention, and student affairs.  Staff managers use special technical expertise to support the efforts of line managers.  Unlike the role of a line-manager, staff-managers support broad institutional objectives involving longer term outcomes.

Managerial skills

As managers, Registrar’s must be aware of, possess, and nurture three distinct skill sets:

Simply stated, the ability to resolve complex problems through creativity, communication, and analytical techniques.  The manager must visualize the cause of the problem and not simply focus on the symptoms.  This ability to serve the organization will include administrative traits such as developing policy and associated procedure, and behavioral traits such as the ability to form and implement decisions.

The ability to work well with people.  As managers, Registrars are often the least prepared with interpersonal skills, yet the very nature of their role is interacting with broad and diverse groups of people.  Somewhat ironic!

The ability to perform specific tasks related to the Registrar profession.  These technical skills include a broad array of issues such as FERPA, subpoena processing, state and federal reporting, AACRAO best practices, and so on.  Also included are information technology ranging from student-system usage/upgrades, to outsourced solutions. 

Managing the Registrar’s office is a significant role and demands strong managerial skills.  But managing alone is not enough.  In my next article, we’ll examine the corresponding leadership skills that complement these managerial skills.

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