Saturday 3 March 2018

Boss competence and teacher well-being

In this post I will be looking at the work of Artz, Goodall, et al. (2017) and the relationship between ‘boss competence and worker-well being.  The relationship between 'boss competence and teacher well-being' is particularly relevant to schools given concerns about both teacher workload, stress-levels and well being and the number of teachers leaving the teaching profession.    I’ll then go onto explore some of the possible implications of the research for schools and school leaders.  Finally, I'll undertake a structured critique of Artz et al's research.

Boss competence and worker well-being: a brief summary of the research.

Artz, Goodall, et al. (2017 state that:
  • Nearly all workers have a supervisor or “boss.” 
  • Little is known about how bosses influence the quality of employees’ lives.
  • A boss’s technical competence is the single strongest predictor of a worker’s job satisfaction.
  • If a worker stays in the same job and workplace, a rise in the competence of a supervisor is associated with an improvement in the worker’s well-being.
  • In a cross-section of 6000 young U.S. workers, the job satisfaction of employees is positively associated with whether the supervisor worked his or her way up within the company (or started the company).
  • In a cross-section of 1600 British workers, satisfaction levels are higher among individuals whose supervisor could if necessary step in competently to do that job.
  • In pooled cross- sections totalling 27,000 individuals, workers’ job satisfaction is highly correlated with the competence of supervisors.
  • These results support the claim that both competence – linked to expert knowledge – and industry experience improve workers’ job satisfaction.
Some possible headline  implications for schools

There are number of 'first-blush'  implications for the leadership and management of schools which members of a school community may choose to draw from these research findings.  For example
  • If you want to increase the well-being of staff increase the competence of ‘bosses’ and line managers
  • If you want to increase job satisfaction then internal appointments – with individuals working their way up through the school – may lead to increased job satisfaction of those they supervise.
  • Senior staff within a school should keep their ‘hand-in’ as teachers to ensure they can competently cover for absent teaching colleagues.
  • If you want to increase teacher well-being appoint leaders who have a background in education and schools rather than appointing someone who has generic leadership and management experience.
However, before jumping to these conclusion it is necessary to look at Artz et al's research in more detail to see whether it is useful for schools and school leaders.  To help me do this  I’m going to use  Professor Steve Higgins 6 As model for effective research use: accessibility, accuracy, appropriate, acceptable, applicable, and actionable

The 6 A’s

Accessibility – given the very high level  maths involved in the paper,  the research is not easily intellectually accessible to school leaders and others interested in teacher well-bing

Accuracy – again this is extremely difficult for the lay reader to judge.  However, the authors do identify some significant limitations in the report, for example, what is meant by boss competence is not clear; there is no reliable and valid instrument to measure boss competence; many of the measures used for boss competence where highly subjective; insufficient attention was paid to external factors that may be influencing both perceptions of boss competence and ‘well-being.’

Appropriate – although multiple sources of evidence were used, none of the evidence used appeared to be generated from research into schools and other similar environments. 

Acceptable – the findings of the research would appear to be at first sight to be broadly consistent with teachers values and beliefs – i.e. to be a senior leader must still be competent in the classroom.

Applicable – the research is relevant to schools given concerns about both teaching staff retention and well-being.

Actionable – the research does not appear to meet Argyris (2000) criteria for actionable advice in that it does not,  ‘specifies the detailed, concrete behaviours required to achieve the intended consequences; it must be crafted in the form of designs that contain causal statements; people must have, or be able to be taught, the concepts and the skills required to implement those causal statements; and the context in which it is to be implemented does not prevents its implementation’.  p8

So what can we make of the research and the implications for schools

Nevertheless for me, the main value of Artz, et al. (2017) is that it directed my attention to a topic known as ‘expert leadership’ and the work of Goodall and Bäker (2015). Now, one of the key questions  ‘expert leadership’ seeks to explore is whether experts and professionals – such as teachers and headteachers - need to be led by other experts and professionals, those who have a deep understanding of and high ability in the core-business of their organization.   In future posts I will examine the notion ‘expert leadership’ and its implications for schools in more detail.


Argyris, C. (2000). Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They're Getting Good Advice and When They're Not. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Artz, B. M., Goodall, A. H. and Oswald, A. J. (2017). Boss Competence and Worker Well-Being. ILR Review. 70. 2. 419-450.
Goodall, A. H. and Bäker, A. (2015). A Theory Exploring How Expert Leaders Influence Performance in Knowledge-Intensive Organizations. in  Incentives and Performance.  Springer.


  1. You have provided an nice article, Thank you very much for this one. And i hope this will be useful for many people.. and i am waiting for your next post keep on updating these kinds of knowledgeable things...
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  2. Hi,

    Thanks for this great post contribution. I really appreciate you.

    Andy Britnell

  3. Gary: Are you aware of research from Australia (an unpublished PhD thesis, I think) into what affects workers' 'discretionary effort'? I heard Andy Buck talk about this a few years ago - the factor that was identified as having the greatest impact on discretionary effort was something like 'the attitude and approach of your immediate line manager', (which would be a Middle Leader like a Head of Department in a school context). Pay was very low on the list.

    I don't have a specific reference for this, though. Can you help?