Survey: Leverage the skills of clinicians, administrators for effective healthcare leadership

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Interpersonal skills matter more to effective leadership than a specific degree background, according to a new survey.

Clinicians and administrators bring different strengths to the table, so one of the most effective healthcare leadership strategies is a “dyad model” that leverages both approaches, according to a new survey.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of the 868 respondents to the latest NEJM Catalyst Insights Council survey said that their organizations employ this approach, and 85% say that a dyad approach is effective.

Clinical leaders bring their medical knowledge and credibility with the hospital workforce to a leadership team, while nonclinical managers are more likely to have experience in human resources and finance, and have operations know-how. A dual leadership model bridges those gaps, the survey respondents said.

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But a clear structure is also key to the dyad approach.

“With any shared responsibility, such as in the dyad model, clarity of roles and defined decision-making processes are imperative,” Stephen Swenson, M.D., medical director for professionalism and peer support at Intermountain Healthcare, and Namita S. Modha, M.D., an internist and clinical editor for NEJM Catalyst, said in their analysis of the survey.

“There is risk of confusion among teams and staff if the organizational structure is not clear.”

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The survey also delved into the most valuable skills for healthcare leaders, and the respondents overwhelmingly said that interpersonal skills are important, regardless of a leader’s professional background. Eighty-two percent said these skills are required to lead a healthcare organization, and 90% said they’re key to leading a team of physicians.

The survey respondents, who included clinicians, healthcare executives, payers and others, were split on which group is best suited to leadership roles. Just more than half (53%) said physicians make better leaders, though many of the respondents were themselves doctors.

“There is an understanding of what it is like in the trenches. Credibility and ‘been there’ goes a long way,” a clinician at a large nonprofit hospital in the Midwest said. “The responsibilities one feels for another person’s life is something that cannot be imagined and helps lead in a ‘first among equals’ manner that empowers others to do their best.”