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Leadership & Management

Leadership in healthcare: Qualities of a good leader

The leadership skills and styles that are needed to succeed as a healthcare leader.

By Courtney Edwards Published 20/12/2022

All industries rely on leaders to pave the way for success.

In healthcare, leaders are highly sought after because they require a lot of tangible skills and must be able to manage business operations and people. Being a healthcare leader requires a high level of patience, willingness to adapt to change and ability to pivot when necessary. 

There is a demand for healthcare leaders in Australia and worldwide to respond to the current challenges in the industry. If you're wondering if a career in health leadership is suited to you, here are the leadership styles that align with the profession and the valued skills that employers expect their leadership team to encompass. 

Why is leadership important in healthcare?

As we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot of uncertainty and change involved in the health sector that can be challenging to navigate. Healthcare professionals with leadership skills are highly valued in settings like hospitals, health clinics, private practices and public services. 

Healthcare professionals who work in leadership roles bear a lot of responsibility. They influence team culture, quality of care for patients and the business performance of their workplace. The day-to-day functionality of a healthcare setting comes down to carefully implemented processes and actions of the leadership team. It’s not only patients and their team they have to think about. Leaders must also be able to communicate with a wide range of stakeholders. Making decisions, actioning change, dealing with staff shortages, managing finances, developing long-term goals and strategic planning, leading patient care and creating a fulfilling work environment for staff all fall under the job description of a healthcare leader. Without them, the healthcare industry would not be able to function properly.

10 key leadership skills in healthcare

Integrity 

Healthcare professionals deal with moral and ethical situations alongside sensitive information. The highest standards of respect and care for patients are expected of healthcare staff and leaders must set the tone for the entire team to uphold high standards of integrity.

Vision 

Leaders in healthcare lead the charge for setting patient, business and team goals. Without vision, it’s difficult to set ambitious objectives and plan how the respective people are going to set out to achieve them. When leaders demonstrate vision to others and communicate to their team about how their role is connected to the vision, it gives everyone a sense of direction and inspires them to work towards it.

 Empathy

Healthcare leaders work with vulnerable patients who are going through the process of diagnosis and dealing with health conditions. This can be challenging as patients can often feel overwhelmed, anxious and uncertain. Having the ability to show compassion to patients is a vital aspect of being a healthcare leader as patients often rely on their medical team for support. It’s also important for team members to have a leader they can speak to when they are facing challenges at work or need advice. Leaders showing empathy towards others is important for forming strong, trusting relationships and allows organisations to provide a positive environment. 

Adaptability

The healthcare industry is continually changing. From the introduction of digital health technology to widespread pandemics like COVID-19, leaders need to be ready to face new situations and adapt accordingly. Being open to pivoting and embracing change when necessary can help prepare leaders for the uncertainty that can arise in the industry. 

Communication

Being able to communicate effectively is a key element when it comes to interacting with patients and colleagues. To work collaboratively with others health professionals, reduce medical errors and be able to speak with patients in high-stress settings, communication skills are vital. Healthcare leaders don’t only communicate face-to-face. Phone calls, emails and virtual meetings all require clear and concise communication too. How leaders provide feedback to their team, delegate tasks and convey important messages through verbal communication and body language plays a big part in how this communication is perceived. 

Decision-making 

Decision-making is a big part of any leadership role, but especially in healthcare where poor decisions can lead to serious consequences. Working in a fast-paced industry requires healthcare leaders to be able to think fast on their feet and make informed decisions in a timely manner. Decision makers are successful at looking at the options available, assessing the risks and making a decision based on the solutions available. 

Problem solving

Healthcare leaders will need to use problem solving skills when managing situations with their team, with patients and the organisation they work for. It’s one of the skills that is necessary because healthcare leaders need to problem solve on a daily basis. Leaders in clinical settings will be faced with solving problems relating to patient and health management whereas leaders  in administrative roles will need to solve problems around budgets and strategies. Being confident in identifying potential issues and strategising ways to overcome and solve them is key for all healthcare professions and is a highly valuable skill in the eyes of employers. 

Agility

Shifting focus is part and parcel of working in healthcare. We’ve mentioned technological advancements and health crises are two areas where adaptability is necessary. Being agile is important for day-to-day changes as moving quickly and efficiently can have a big impact on how successfully workplaces can shift their focus. Since healthcare is a fast-moving industry, leaders bear the responsibility of making transitions smooth and getting everyone on board with changes. If a leader lacks the ability to be agile, their team or workplace risks falling behind. 

Self-awareness

Monitoring the progress and success of a team or workplace can fall within the responsibilities of healthcare leaders. But it’s important for leaders to also measure their own success and reflect on their weaknesses to improve as an individual and leader. By being self-aware and open to feedback, leaders are able to improve their skills and encourage their others to do the same. 

Understanding of technology

Many healthcare settings rely on technology. To stand out as a leader, understanding how to use the technology available in the industry can set you out among other leaders. Those who welcome technological advancements will have access to innovative and efficient ways of working that benefit patients and their team. According to Deloitte, 70% of Australians are willing to use virtual healthcare services. Healthcare leaders who embrace digital transformation and simulation technology also encourage their staff and patients to be more open to the use of technology in healthcare. 

Leadership styles in healthcare

These are the leadership styles that are sought-after in healthcare workplaces because they contribute to a positive environment where professionals can work cohesively in a high-functioning team.

Transformational 

Transformational leaders strive to create a positive environment and encourage others to take initiative in the workplace. This type of leader understands how to identify necessary changes, spark inspiration for others to reach a shared vision, challenge colleagues to do their best work and think independently to develop ideas that benefit the wider team. It’s important to have transformational leaders in healthcare because they foster change in a collaborative way instead of directing staff with strict instructions. This can result in positive team morale, increased productivity and job satisfaction. 

Innovative 

Leaders who have the ability to be innovative and think outside of the box are highly valuable in healthcare settings. The COVID-19 pandemic and skills shortages in healthcare have brought on unprecedented circumstances where innovative leaders have been able to excel. This type of leader lays out multiple possibilities to make informed decisions and encourages their team to do the same. Instead of relying on lessons or experiences from the past, innovative leaders are forward thinkers who create goals with the aim of having multiple ways to achieve them. 

Democratic

Creating a positive and interactive team environment is important to a democratic leader. You can expect this leader to encourage their team to share feedback, contribute ideas and openly communicate. A democratic leader is successful in improving processes in the workplace and creating a collaborative team environment. Professional and personal growth of staff and team success is at the forefront of workplaces with a democratic leader.

Servant 

Servant leaders are beneficial to healthcare organisations, especially where diverse teams are involved, because they focus on motivating and supporting each individual team member. They do this by ensuring everyone has the skills, resources and confidence to succeed in their role. They also take the time to build relationships with their colleagues so they feel comfortable communicating with their leader.

Southern Cross University’s Master of Healthcare Leadership degree includes a unit on positive leadership models where you can explore a range of leadership styles and establish what style you align with based on your strengths and goals. 

What is an ineffective leader in healthcare?

Not everyone who leads is a good leader and this can come down to many factors. Some of these include: 

  • Being unable to acknowledge mistakes.
  • Not having a clear vision or goals.
  • Being unable to keep themselves and their team accountable.
  • Inability to communicate effectively. 
  • Shows favouritism to specific team members.
  • Poor time-management skills.
  • Being unorganised.
  • Failure to motivate and support team. 

Leadership isn't something that comes naturally to everyone. Luckily, it’s something that can be learned through study and hands-on experience. If you want to be a leader in the healthcare industry but feel you need to develop your skills, these postgraduate health leadership courses can give you the qualifications required to succeed. 

The future of healthcare leadership

There has been a big shift in the roles and responsibilities of healthcare leaders. Forward thinking, tangible skills and a positive leadership style are imperative for future healthcare leaders. Artificial intelligence and related technology have changed the way we work. Leaders need to adapt to changes in the space so they can encourage their team to embrace new technology and use it to maximise productivity and efficiency. Elective procedures, general check-ups, specialist appointments and a shortage of healthcare workers has resulted in a backlog of people seeking medication attention. Healthcare leaders must be able to work collaboratively with their team, other departments and stakeholders to ensure patients are receiving the best care possible in a timely manner. Healthcare leaders of the future will need to have multi-faceted qualities to excel in their role. This is where a postgraduate degree in healthcare leadership can be beneficial to success.

Health leadership careers

A career in healthcare leadership begins with formal education and hands-on learning experience. Whether you work in the industry already or want to explore a career change in health with a focus on leadership, postgraduate study is the stepping stone to gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to become a healthcare leader. Since leadership is a specialisation within health, courses in leadership are only offered at a postgraduate level. Check out the available courses and speak to a Student Enrollment Advisor about your eligibility for any courses that spark your interest.