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As someone looking to hone my leadership skills, I routinely seek the advice of senior executives. So when Julia Hanigsberg, vice-president of administration and finance at Toronto's Ryerson University, agreed to my request to job-shadow her, I jumped at the opportunity to learn her tips and tricks.

Ms. Hanigsberg is in charge of running the business side of Ryerson, with nine divisions reporting to her, including finance, human resources and infrastructure. Her portfolio also involves overseeing the construction of Ryerson's Student Learning Centre, a $112-million facility due to open next January. Yet, despite her full plate, she still finds time to respond to students on Twitter. How does she do it?

Here are five tips that Ms. Hanigsberg shared with me:

Surround yourself with smart people

Build a team of smart people who will challenge you, then trust them to do their jobs. "It's all about the team, all about the team, all about the team," said Ms. Hanigsberg, who admits that she doesn't know more than 10 per cent of what her staff are doing at any one time.

No wonder Ms. Hanigsberg believes in giving people opportunities. Throughout her career, people similarly believed in her. When she was a lawyer in the policy division at the Ontario Ministry of Attorney-General, her supervisor offered her the role as liaison to the attorney-general. Pregnant with twins, Ms. Hanigsberg at first declined. But after making arrangements that would allow her to get the job done yet still spend time with her children, she accepted the offer.


Learn to collaborate with members on your team as well as staff from other departments to improve learning opportunities and get more exposure to other parts of your company. Working on projects that involve different departments is also a great way to get noticed by senior leadership. However, asking someone for their input 24 hours before a document is due is not what collaboration is about. Involve your peers early on in the process. While working alone to get something done might seem easier sometimes, working with the team ultimately produces better results.

Don't be afraid to try

Don't kill ideas before they're born. Instead, try a few pilot projects to see whether they gain traction. Two years ago, Ms. Hanigsberg collaborated with another Ryerson vice-president to put on an event bringing together women in senior roles at the university. She realized she was on the right track when, at the first meeting for the group, she introduced two women from different faculties who had been working at Ryerson for 20 years without ever having met. Her "small idea" turned into the Women in Leadership initiative that provides the university's female leaders with opportunities for peer mentorship and support.

Leverage the power of social media

Use social media to engage your stakeholders. Social media allows Ms. Hanigsberg, who manages her own blog and Twitter account, to have a direct ear to the 50,000-person Ryerson community that includes students, faculty and staff. The savvy VP uses Twitter to identify and quickly respond to problems. For example, when students once complained on Twitter about big lineups at registration services, she sent staff over with coffee and hot chocolate to diffuse their frustration.

Don't tie yourself to one mentor

Seek the guidance of multiple mentors, depending on their area of expertise. Ms. Hanigsberg, for example, seeks advice from a group of students and alumni who provide her with the perspective of the student community. She's also mentored by some of her staff regarding social media.

Lina Duque (@LinaDuqueMBA) is a marketing and social media strategist and advocate of women's leadership. She is also an advisor with Digital Media Zone, a business incubator at Ryerson.