Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


Behaviors, Attitudes, Skills, and Knowledge for Senior Student Affairs Officers: Perceptions of Leadership Success

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

William Balzer (Other)

Third Advisor

Kenneth Borland (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Nicholas Bowman (Committee Member)


Success of senior student affairs officers (SSAOs) on a college campus involves a number of critical factors set in the context of three themes: effective leadership, constant change, and a connection to the university mission and culture. These critical success factors were couched as behaviors, attitudes, skills, and knowledge (BASK) of current SSAOs. As a profession built by scholar-practitioners, it is important to understand success from the SSAOs doing the job. NASPA members and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) SSAOs known to the researcher were asked to share their point of view about which BASK factors were most important. The purpose of the current study is to assess current SSAOs’ perceptions of the importance of these BASK factors to success in their positions. The research questions asked how current SSAOs rate the importance of the BASK factors relative to one another, to what extent there are group differences in how SSAOs rate the BASK factors, and to what extent there are group differences in how SSAOs rate the order of BASK factors relative to one another. Integrity in decision making was rated as most important, and presenting sessions at professional conferences and/or submitting articles or book chapters for publication, while still important, was rated as the lowest of the BASK factors. Overall, women and people of color had higher BASK scores. A total of 50 lesbian/gay/bisexual SSAOs participated, representing over 11% of respondents; there were no differences for sexual orientation found in the rating of BASK factors. The relative ranking of BASK factors was similar regardless of SSAOs’ gender identity, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. This study marks the first time sexual orientation was included as a demographic question in published research about SSAOs. The findings provide a path for aspiring and new SSAOs and offer implications for practice, policy, and future research pertaining to the training of student affairs professionals.