Date of Award

Fall 12-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


STEM Education & Professional Studies


Instructional Design and Technology

Committee Director

John Baaki

Committee Member

Joshua Howell

Committee Member

Jay Scribner


Even though an instructional designer may not have formal authority or direct reports, to be successful, they need leadership skills. Although the literature calls for instructional designers to possess several critical leadership skills, it does not consistently present the same important skills and often defines them very broadly. Further, authors who have argued that leadership skills are not taught to instructional designers in a sufficient way often call for more education on leadership competencies in graduate school, but the literature does not state where these skills are currently being learned and fostered.

This qualitative research study used methods of grounded theory and the Critical Incident Technique (CIT) to identify leadership competencies instructional designers use to successfully lead design projects and to identify where they learn and practice these leadership competencies. In interviews, 25 instructional designers shared stories about successful and unsuccessful projects they led and where they felt they learned the skills needed to lead successful projects. After qualitative coding to determine common themes, the most frequently cited success behaviors are collaborating positively and communicating successfully with subject matter experts (SMEs) or stakeholders, continuous review with stakeholders or SMEs, completing a needs analysis, project management, and gaining support. Translating these success behaviors into leadership competencies resulted in four key leadership competencies necessary for instructional designers to lead successful projects: (1) positive collaboration and continuous review with SMEs and stakeholders, (2) completing a needs analysis, (3) project management, and (4) gaining support. These competencies match the research done previously on instructional design and leadership and align with leadership competencies identified by the Center for Creative Leadership. Instructional designers cited doing the work, having a helpful mentor or supervisor, or trying and failing as the most common places where they learned how to successfully lead design projects. This poses an opportunity for further research to be conducted on where these competencies can be taught to new instructional designers. Further research could also be done to define these competencies further or to do similar studies for specific industries or experience level of instructional designers.


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Copyright, 2022, by Heidi Elaine Kirby, All Rights Reserved.