School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Christine Saba


situational leadership, athletics, higher education, athletics director, coach, organizational leadership, faith-based education


Higher Education | Sports Management


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the leadership experiences of intercollegiate athletics directors at faith-based, small colleges and universities throughout the United States. The theory guiding this study was Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership theory, as it explores how leaders can most effectively lead and engage their employees given unique circumstances and how those types of leaders are found within the faith-based, small college and university intercollegiate athletics departments. The central research question in this study is: How do athletics directors describe their leadership experiences in a faith-based, small college intercollegiate athletics setting? The phenomenological research using the hermeneutic approach explores the shared leadership experiences of 10 faith-based, small college and university athletics directors to understand those leadership settings and how they differ from those in larger institutions. The setting was within faith-based, small college and university athletics departments throughout the United States. The three data collection methods included individual interviews, focus groups, and an online survey of the selected participants. The data was analyzed through textural descriptions, bracketing, and data triangulation, resulting in five themes: relationship-driven environments, commitment to academic success, pressure to maintain or improve enrollment at the institution, financial challenges, and spiritual integration and missional alignment. In addition to the findings, limitations, implications for policy and practice, and recommendations for future studies were presented.