Being an effective leader in any workplace requires certain skills, knowledge and experience; however, there are certain specific factors that need to be taken into account that are dependent on the industry and the context in which it operates. Healthcare, for example, has its own particular demands and expectations that any leader needs to factor into the way they work and how they engage their co-workers and staff.
According to the Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS), the healthcare sector was the second largest employer in the Canadian economy in 2018, with a total of 1.9 million workers, behind the retail trade. It’s hoped that by 2025, Canada will double the size of the health and biosciences sector and become a top-three global hub. In the US, there were 22 million workers within the industry, which accounted for 14% of all workers in the country, according to the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.
Healthcare is a huge sector that encompasses a variety of roles and workplaces. Effective leadership by healthcare professionals is crucial in all modern healthcare settings. This is partly because of the drive to improve the quality of care at a time of increasing healthcare demands and a need for more efficiency and productivity. It is important to engage medical staff through inclusive strategies that meet their needs as well as those of patients.
Most medical and health services managers work in offices and healthcare facilities that include hospitals, group medical practices and nursing homes. Broadly, these professionals organize, control, direct and evaluate the delivery of services within a particular establishment, department or area.
Many healthcare managers support the day-to-day running of hospitals and other facilities, but they will often be found in roles outside of a clinical and patient setting. These could be within pharmaceutical manufacturing, health insurance and computer systems and design. They could also be overseeing departments such as finance, nursing and patient records.
Employers are looking for a mix of technical, soft and analytical skills in their managers. Problem-solving skills are highly in demand in what can be a very fast-moving and stressful environment. These skills include expertise in budgeting and billing, such as maintaining records of resources to ensure smooth operations, checking supplies, recording salaries and facilitating customer billing.
Analytical and problem-solving skills are useful in areas such as quality assurance and control. Ensuring that a workplace adheres to set standards, for example, is a responsibility of medical office administrators, with regular reviews of processes, safety measures and managing customer feedback.
Data is very much at the heart of the modern healthcare industry and enables professionals to make informed decisions, improve patient care and provide accurate and speedy diagnoses with workable solutions, meaning data analytic skills are hugely important.
This large and growing sector offers many opportunities and a range of challenges for any current or potential healthcare leader. For example, new technological developments and initiatives need to be managed with the growth of digital health, which is driving improvements in the design of both medial products as well as the delivery of healthcare services. The demand for virtual care is also growing, and patients are now adapting to online booking and virtual visits more and more. These developments are all evolving at the same time as constantly changing and improving medicines and treatment that are becoming available to the public.
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Qualities of a good leader
Generally speaking, a manager or project leader will utilize their skills to organize others to attain a shared goal; this will involve motivating people to complete tasks in order to achieve what is needed.
Some of the characteristics required to do this include soft skills such as active listening, which will help managers understand the team and promote good communication across the board. A patient and empathetic attitude will enable leaders to work with different personalities who have a range of levels of skills, experience and knowledge to help achieve their collective objective.
Decisiveness is also crucial. Making decisions quickly and firmly with the available information will move a task, project or long-term goal along to its conclusion. Showing integrity illustrates to co-workers and employees that someone has a strong set of values, which can also make them appear to be honest and trustworthy. This will help any organization make ethical choices, which in turn will help it maintain a healthy work environment and a positive reputation.
The ability to build and maintain relationships with all sorts of personalities is another key leadership skill, whether they are within a particular team or the organization as a whole. Encompassed within this are also confliction resolution and an ability to communicate effectively.
Solving problems creatively and decisively is another characteristic of a good leader. Coming up with suitable solutions that can be communicated easily to other members of a team, making quick decisions and overcoming obstacles will help ensure goals are met.
Members of a team will respect a leader they feel they can rely on, and a manager that follows through on their plans and keeps promises can create a resilient team that is able to work together through challenging periods.
Another key trait of a good leader is the ability to mentor and teach, whether it be taking time to guide employees through how to perform a particular task or helping them grow their careers and encouraging them to achieve their goals.
Leadership roles in healthcare
Healthcare facilities can be very challenging environments to work in, so developing the right leadership skills is essential.
Leaders in healthcare may be tasked with planning, controlling and organizing the delivery of healthcare services. They may also be required to consult with directors and senior managers in order to establish and maintain standards, develop evaluation systems to monitor the quality of delivery of care and ensure effective use of resources such as in-patient beds and facilities. Other duties may include developing and implementing plans for projects and new programs, acquiring new equipment and working on future staffing levels as well as working on budgets, supervising staff and recruitment.
Regarding specific roles, examples of what an effective leader in nursing could be include being skilled at handling conflicts between staff members in a supportive way, communicating with patients effectively and answering difficult questions about a medical condition in a compassionate and empathetic way.
Here is an example of a healthcare leader utilizing strong communication skills and effective decision-making abilities. A manager overseeing a particular unit within a hospital may notice that the nurses seem very busy. The manager could come up with a solution that would modify the unit’s phone triage and redefine the medical assistants’ roles so that the nurses have enough time to deal with the patients.
Another example would be a healthcare manager driving change in hospital practices, leading to death rates among emergency patients falling, indicating a successful outcome of their decisions.
Improving leadership skills
Personal development is a very important element for anyone who wishes to progress or improve at their job. Whether working or studying, a good leader will always be looking for opportunities to advance their skills.
Taking courses, networking and researching developments and policy shifts within the healthcare industry are all positive steps towards increasing effective management. It’s important to also read both specific health papers and general accessible articles available to the public about health.
Developing your own leadership style can also help to improve job performance. Ask a trusted colleague or mentor to give their opinions on strengths and weaknesses or help you put together a development plan. In addition, another useful exercise is to look at instances when you have received praise, then identify themes in the areas that most of this praise arose from and examine the traits and skills that helped you achieve this success.
Understanding your personal leadership style can help you choose the skills that need to be worked on in order to make improvements. Different leadership styles include:
- Democratic – This leadership style relies on team members to help in the decision-making process by sharing information, acknowledging feedback and taking other views into account before making a decision.
- Authoritative – This type of leader generally makes decisions without consulting team members and expects them to comply with their decisions fully.
- Coaching – Those who use this style create an environment where the team can development their talents and reach their potential under the leader’s management.
- Transformational – This style involves a leader moving towards improving an organization’s operations by creating an encouraging environment for their team.
- Bureaucratic – These leaders generally follow existing rules and procedures strictly when directing their team and expect them to work in the same way.
Realistically, most leaders use – whether consciously or unconsciously – a combination of styles. New managers may pick one that they identify with the most at the beginning of their careers, but as they start to deal with more people, gain more experience and have different issues and projects to deal with, that will naturally change and evolve. It depends on personality, the needs of the office or organization or a particular problem that has to be overcome.
Following on from this, setting realistic development goals will give direction and focus, while seeking out mentors who are themselves successful leaders will give insights for the future. Finding leadership roles outside of work, such as volunteering for a charity project or managing a local sports team, will give extra valuable experience.
How to become a healthcare manager
The majority of healthcare managers have a bachelor’s degree before they enter the sector, and it’s common for employers to expect a master’s degree, although each workplace will have its own specific requirements. Some facilities will prefer those with specialized healthcare experience.
Some administrators must be licensed – although requirements will vary. In these cases, they will need to complete approved training programs to pass a licensing exam.
The executive master of health administration from the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management is the only program of its kind in the country that intersects healthcare and business management. Designed to enable students to become well-rounded and strategic leaders in healthcare, it has a strong emphasis on data, technology, leadership, innovation and policy knowledge.
Although students will complete most of their coursework online, as part of the capstone course, they will attend one week on campus, taking part in an interactive learning experience. This will incorporate guest speakers, a case competition among teams of students, student presentations and demonstrations, facilitated workgroups, panel feedback sessions and networking opportunities.
In order to ensure that the curriculum is up to date and relevant, the Telfer School of Management has formed a Health Programs Advisory Board, which comprises representatives within the broader healthcare system. This board works with Telfer academic leaders to ensure the course content and delivery is relevant to future healthcare leaders.
A team of dedicated admissions advisors is available for any questions or queries potential students may have, so that candidates can be sure they are making the right choices for them.
Gaining the right qualifications and experience will enable future healthcare professionals to have a long and rewarding career within an ever-growing sector. They will be well-placed to help deal with the challenges facing the healthcare sector as a whole.