Vietnamese higher education has been subjected to constant pressures and major changes in the last few decades so as to meet the country’s needs for socio-economic development and to better prepare graduates for employment and personal growth. There has been greater recognition for the role of mid-level academic managers as key contributors to effective institutional performance and success. However, an understanding of what constitutes a competent mid-level academic manager, who are heads of faculties, departments, academic offices and specialized centers, for the context of vietnam is limited. This study employs an exploratory and mixed-method approach to identify the core competencies required for mid-level academic managers at vietnamese higher education institutions. Findings from focus group discussions and a survey conclude five professional domains for effective mid-level academic management and sustainable development yet, in the meantime, reveal the gap between institutional expectations and the actual competencies of academic heads as perceived by academic heads themselves, their supervisors and their team members. 2019 By the authors.