Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Executive Leadership

First Supervisor

Loretta Quigley, EdD

Second Supervisor

Rachel Hendricks, EdD


The purpose of this descriptive phenomenological study was to gain insights into the impression management behaviors of executive leaders in higher education, within the context of opposing views among their different audiences. It is incumbent upon college leaders to communicate messages to stakeholders that meet expectations during a time of eroding public support. There is a lack of scholarship focusing specifically on how higher education executives experience the challenge of navigating shifting priorities among diverse audiences. This study explores the phenomenon of impression management from the lens of Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical theory, which provides intuitive metaphors for illuminating the subjective experience of the participants. The framework presupposes a non-critical research stance towards the phenomenon of impression management in higher education executives, understood in this study as the conscious or unconscious effort made by college leaders to favorably influence the perception of their audiences. The researcher used a descriptive phenomenological method, which was adapted to include dramaturgical categories as part of the coding process. Coding was performed on interview data from five senior executives in higher education institutions: two college presidents and three cabinet-level executives. Analysis of the data revealed two fundamental themes common to the personal experiences of all the participants: understanding others and serving a higher purpose. The persistence of these two themes in the data suggests that although the phenomenon of impression management is experienced subjectively, it may resonate collectively. The results of the study may, thus, be of interest to executive leaders and boards of trustees.

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