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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Sharon Rallis

Subject Categories

Educational Leadership


Due to increased accountability, demands, and responsibilities, principals struggle to effectively lead schools. Therefore, they look to strengthen the structure and operations of schools by utilizing distributed leadership and the role of department chairs to build leadership capacity and improve school culture (Elmore, 2000; Harris, 2005; Spillane, 2008).

A critical aspect of distributed leadership is a school’s organizational culture or “the way we do things around here” (Bryk & Schneider, 2003), which can positively or negatively influence any school initiative. Since organizational culture can foster collaboration and a shared commitment to school goals, which in turn can build leadership capacity, the school culture’s capacity to influence the success or demise of any shared leadership model is explored.

Unfortunately, ambiguity within distributed leadership and the role of department chair complicate effective implementation of distributed leadership by impeding task completion and successful navigation of relationships (Mehta, Gardia, & Rathmore, 2010). Due to ever changing administration and complex and at times paradoxical mandates, a certain level of ambiguity will always exist in schools. Therefore, school leaders should accept ambiguity not as a stigma but as an asset and necessary adaptive skill that gives people the confidence and motivation to navigate the unknown.

The conceptual framework for this study incorporates my experiences as a principal and former department chair, as well as the theoretical anchors of distributed leadership, role theory, organizational leadership theories, self-efficacy, and organizational commitment. This study utilized an ethnographic qualitative approach, relying on a descriptive single case study strategy of inquiry to examine the unique relationships that exist between a principal and her department chairs to identify specific examples of and participants’ perceptions towards distributed leadership, school culture, and incidents of role ambiguity. Research methods included individual and small group interviews, direct non-participatory observations, and analysis of site documents. Key principles of distributed leadership, as well as descriptions of how ambiguity and school culture can influence distributed leadership are explored in the findings, which are intended to help school systems conceptualize a framework for successful and efficacious implementation of distributed leadership.