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The 5 Most Important Skills for Healthcare Leaders

michelle-balash-headshot
by 
Michelle Balash
on October 30, 2018

Medical leaders. Patient care managers. Health services managers. Healthcare executives. Healthcare administrators. Chief medical officers.

The need for these and other healthcare leadership positions is projected to grow by 20% between 2016 and 2026, clearly presenting a challenge for healthcare recruiters and for learning managers in healthcare organizations.

Successful healthcare leaders need clinical skills, business competencies, and interpersonal or soft skills to guide their organizations to success. But which skills are the real must-haves when recruiting or developing leaders to manage healthcare organizations and teams?

Like most things, it depends on who you ask.

Educational institutions with degree programs in Health Administration and Healthcare MBAs face this question constantly. George Washington University, for example, boils the list of key skills down to three: change agency, bottom line focus, and conflict management. Becker’s Hospital Review cites listening, vision, integrity, empathy, and optimism as core skills for medical leaders.

A great leader creates a strong workplace culture—which in turn drives positive trends in employee engagement and retention.
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Insights from 35,000 Healthcare Employees and Executives

In what may be the most comprehensive study of healthcare leadership competencies, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) analyzed data from nearly 35,000 healthcare workers to discover which skills are crucial to success, and how to develop those skills in leaders.

In total, CCL identified 16 critical competencies that healthcare leaders need to be successful. Of these, 5 skills were ranked as “most important for success in healthcare organizations.”

1. Employee Leadership

The skill most important for leadership success is critical in every company, regardless of industry: the ability to effectively lead people and teams.

A highly variable skill, great leadership requires self-awareness and a particular savvy with interpersonal communication and relationship building. A great leader of people knows how to

  • Build teams of talented employees
  • Act with fairness when dealing with direct reports
  • Delegate decision making to develop employee skills and confidence
  • Coach employees and foster their professional development and career opportunities.

Drawing on these crucial leadership skills, a great leader creates a strong workplace culture—which in turn drives positive trends in employee engagement and retention.

Leaders who value participative management also encourage employees to share ideas, information, reactions, and perspectives—and they listen.
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In an industry with cavernous talent gaps, engaging and retaining strong performers is paramount to success—as defined by patient satisfaction and health outcomes.

Looking to build a talent pool of future nurse leaders? Here are three keys to developing a leadership development program focused on nurses.

2. Resourcefulness

Even in organizations with seemingly vast budgets, resources always seem to be in shorter-than-ideal supply. We always wish for more time, more and more skilled job candidates, fewer regulatory constraints, and—of course—more budget for our department or program.

Good leaders are creative. They solve problems for themselves and for their teams. They get input, allocate resources for maximum impact, and find innovative ways to inspire and empower their teams to deliver superior patient care.

The leaders you want to hire and develop will possess the hallmarks of resourcefulness.

3. Composure

Healthcare is a fast-paced, high-risk industry. Every decision healthcare practitioners make at work affects a patient’s wellbeing and potentially, their life.

A good leader is one that can navigate within a stressful environment without creating additional stress by reacting impulsively.

With employee burnout at new levels in healthcare, strong leaders must know both how to manage their own emotions and work-life balance AND how to support and empower employees to take care of themselves.

Struggling to recruit healthcare leaders? Get insights from recruiting expert Kathryn Moody on how to ask better questions.

4. Change Management

In addition to being fast-based and demanding on a daily basis, healthcare is also a constantly and rapidly evolving industry.

Healthcare leaders must be sufficiently nimble to quickly grasp and devise strategies to manage change from seemingly all sides, including, for example

  • Technological advancements in diagnostics and treatment
  • New and expanding regulatory requirements
  • Mergers and integrations of healthcare delivery networks
  • Seismic shifts in the health insurance market
  • Opioid addiction and other complex health epidemics.

Healthcare organizations rely on their leaders to understand and adapt to changes themselves. They must guide the workforce, navigating the human side of change management. They must understand the importance of using data to drive and inform organizational changes. And they must be savvy enough to use change management as an opportunity to strengthen communities of practice.

Is that a lot to ask?

Yes, but such are the demands of modern healthcare leadership.

5. Participative Management

No leader is an island, and no healthcare organization can afford to have leaders who think or act like one.

While strong leaders employ more than one style, healthcare organizations need them to be particularly adept at participatory management. Modern healthcare leaders must know when and how to involve employees in decision-making and build consensus.

Leaders who value participative management also encourage employees to share ideas, information, reactions, and perspectives—and they listen. This investment signals respect and open-mindedness, and a commitment to continuous growth. It engages employees in their work, their teams, and the organization as a whole.

And, importantly, it clearly demonstrates that leaders value employee contributions and input on strategies. By sustaining employee engagement over time, great leaders elevate their organizations—lowering turnover and improving patient experience, quality of care, and health outcomes.

Recruiting and Developing the Leaders You Need

It’s worth noting that these competencies are all soft skills that are difficult to assess in a candidate. For many hospitals and managed care organizations, the more promising strategy may be to invest in cultivating leadership potential in house.

Your performance review process creates an excellent opportunity to identify employees with leadership potential, coach and mentor them, and create targeted L&D plans to enrich their soft skills.

Performance management also holds the key to sustaining skills for employees who take on leadership roles—and for the leaders you have in place today.

It’s critical that healthcare leaders be measured against these competencies—effectively creating a common level of accountability across your organization. And by creating an environment in which employees are able to provide continuous feedback on their leaders, you can evaluate their effectiveness.

See how PeopleFluent Performance enables flexible goal setting, just-in-time coaching, and anywhere/anytime feedback to effectively evaluate leaders and employees.

Remember, while skills are applicable in any industry, healthcare leaders must not only exhibit and build these traits, they must do so under pressure.

So when your healthcare organization recruits new leaders or seeks to identify and grow leaders from within, your HR teams will do well to focus on these 5 core skills.

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