The Future of Leadership in Healthcare

The Future of Leadership in Healthcare

Strong leadership has always been important for healthcare organizations, but in today’s competitive environment it is critical. Disruptions are emerging from every corner of the industry. Economic pressures, regulatory changes, technological advancements, and even rising consumerism are placing considerable demands on healthcare leaders. The opportunities and challenges these factors create today are influencing leadership in healthcare. B.E. Smith’s Leadership Intelligence Report, a survey of more than 800 healthcare executives, reflects the transformation currently underway. This industry report will examine how external and internal factors are not only impacting today’s executives, but shaping tomorrow’s leaders.

Leadership Competencies for the Future

Healthcare’s changing business model is disrupting the necessary leadership competencies and creating new and evolving leadership roles. These changes are driven by a convergence of risk, speed, complex operating pressures, and a highly competitive market. Previously, executives were able to utilize a set of standard competencies to effectively lead their organizations to success. Today, executives must continually assess what skills and behaviors breed success now and in the future.

B.E. Smith’s Leadership Intelligence Report identified several attributes as most critical. Vision and strategy led the way, confirming the intense focus on managing for the future. Integrity, a close second, enables leaders to establish trust and gain buy-in for often uncertain long-term strategies. Also making the top five most desired attributes were communication, agility, and collaboration.

Emerging Leadership Roles

Just as leadership skill sets are evolving, so too are specific executive roles. B.E. Smith has tracked this developing trend extensively, noting the emergence of new management titles focused on a wide range of disciplines, including patient experience, value analysis, clinical integration, and information security. As early-stage positions, many of these roles are still undergoing definition.

The relative role instability carries several implications for tomorrow’s cadre of leaders. First, collaboration skills are imperative as these executives are tasked with breaking down traditional silos and building teams which span clinical and administrative functions. Second, continuous learning and leadership development are essential for these executives as they build the necessary skill sets. Formal and informal programs should incorporate changing content as competency demands change. Agile programs ensure leadership development remains relevant to an organization’s current and future needs.

Physician Leaders a Special Case

B.E. Smith assists organizations in recruiting and developing physician executives, particularly as clinical leadership becomes increasingly essential to successful change. These leaders not only represent clinical knowledge on the management team, but are critical in strategic planning. These evolving roles requires physician executives to build both financial acumen and collaborative soft skills to establish strategic partnerships in integrated leadership structures.

Strategic Directions Facing Leaders

B.E. Smith’s Leadership Intelligence Report also offers some insight into what forces healthcare executives expect to greatly influence the industry in the year ahead. According to survey respondents, government regulations (45%) and financial pressure (41%) will be the greatest industry disrupters in 2018. Healthcare executives also listed regulatory and finance as the top drivers to most impact their organization’s future. Continued industry consolidation via mergers and acquisitions, evolving leadership roles, and physician integration where among other factors expected to challenge executives this year.

Recruiting the Executive of the Future

One key challenge facing organizations and executive leaders is finding professionals with the talent to become future leaders. “Access to high quality talent” was deemed the second most critical recruiting challenge in this year’s Leadership Intelligence Report. Gauging future requirements only complicates the task. Recommended recruitment strategies include:

  • Define needs clearly. Avoid generic analysis and map current and future leadership attributes to specific organizational scenario.
  • Look beyond conventional choices. B.E. Smith advises clients to entertain candidates who may not fit the organization’s traditional profile for leadership or come from outside the industry.
  • Recruit with top motivators in mind. B.E. Smith’s survey found the two most influential factors in leadership recruitment are compensation and culture.
  • Retain high performers and focus on engagement. While compensation and culture are key to recruitment, flexibility/work-life balance as well as management and colleagues are key drivers of both retention and engagement.
  • Commit to leadership development. Leadership development programs are critical to reducing turnover. According to B.E. Smith’s Leadership Intelligence Report, 32% of healthcare executives say they must leave their organization to advance their career. This is an area of opportunity for many healthcare organizations, as 37% don’t currently have a program in place.


Anticipating future leadership needs is as complex as forecasting strategic trends – and equally critical. Analysis of skills requirements, industry directions, shifting needs and adaptive recruitment approaches will lead to action plans that promote long-run organizational success.

Founded in 1978, B.E. Smith is the trusted partner in Interim Leadership and Executive Search solutions for organizations across the healthcare continuum. Exclusive to the healthcare industry, B.E. Smith’s personalized placement methodology best matches organizations with professionals to advance clinical, financial, and operational performance. B.E. Smith is a member of AMN Healthcare, the leader and innovator in healthcare workforce solutions and staffing services.

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