The increasing changes and demands placed on higher education institutions have resulted on stronger emphasis to develop the diverse management competencies of academic leaders (ALs) (Hecth, 2004). Many universities do not have a systematic approach for either identifying or developing the skills, thus, the ALs frequently have difficulties managing and prioritising the multiple tasks expected of them (Visser, 2009). This study aims to identify the competency gap of the ALs, the coping strategies they adopted and the extent of their coping capabilities. A survey using online administered questionnaires was done with ALs from a private and a public university in Malaysia. These leaders included academics who were stream or subject coordinators and Associate Deans responsible for teaching/learning and research. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics. Findings from the 51 respondents indicated that they have a lack of competence in the core management roles such as planning/organising, leadership, controlling and human resource related areas. They also showed a few weak competencies with regards to their interpersonal skills. The leaders coped with various work-focused, emotion-focused and organisational strategies. However, they also adopted some incompetent strategies that led to a vicious cycle of stress that resulted in work-life balance issues. A framework to illustrate the effect of incompetent coping strategies on their competency gap was developed for this study. From the study, institutions can be informed to better identify the relevant and effective coping strategies so that professional learning and support are truly beneficial.
Keywords: Academic leaders, competency gaps, coping strategies