I recently met with a Health System HR Director and we talked about effective leadership. We agreed that successful leaders in any industry strategize and plan ahead, motivate their people to accept and buy into needed change, and initiate the steps to achieve it.

We also discussed the unique combination of core competencies that healthcare industry leaders possess. Here’s what I came away with from our conversation.

Consolidation in the healthcare industry has changed the parameters of effective leadership.

Today’s industry leaders usually have some medical experience coupled with administrative, legal, business, finance, risk management, marketing or human resources backgrounds. Plus, many I know have earned additional degrees, including MBAs, MPHs, PhDs and JDs.

Healthcare industry leaders also need to focus on how to make brick-and-mortal upgrades, being current on the newest and best medical equipment, and having the information technology capability to collect and manage patient records.

Against that backdrop, meeting patient expectations is another imperative for leaders. While CEOs used to manage the operations of the organization, now they have to also focus on the quality of delivered services.

Additionally, and from my experience, I’ve learned that successful healthcare leaders possess ‘soft skills’. Those are the qualities that can make the difference between ‘managing’ and ‘leadership’.

Here are six ‘soft skills’ that healthcare leaders should have.

Employee Leadership

Great leaders help people and teams achieve short and long term goals.

That requires self-awareness and a well-developed comfort level with interpersonal communication and relationship building. A great leader of people knows how to:

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


Even in organizations with large budgets, resources are finite. That’s why great 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.


Successful healthcare leaders have the ability to anticipate, plan for and react to ever-changing challenges. And they need to do so without creating additional stress for themselves and the organization by reacting impulsively. Leaders must have a clear vision of objectives and goals, and then implement an action plan to achieve them.

With employee burnout at new levels in healthcare, effective leaders need to manage their own emotions and work/life balance while supporting and empowering employees to succeed.

Change Management

Healthcare is a constantly and rapidly evolving industry. Healthcare leaders must be nimble enough to quickly grasp and devise strategies to address ever-changing challenges like:

  • The opioid addiction epidemic
  • Mergers and integrations of healthcare networks
  • New regulatory requirements
  • Technological advancements in diagnostics and treatment
  • Shifts in the health insurance market

Participative Management

In my experience, I’ve observed that highly successful leaders are particularly adept at participatory management. That means they 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. 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.

It also demonstrates that leaders value employee contributions and input. By encouraging employee engagement, successful leaders leverage fresh viewpoints and creative ideas that contribute to the organization’s success.


Healthcare leaders hold themselves accountable for their successes and shortcomings. They focus on whether they’ve achieved strategic objectives, motivated and retained skilled professional staff, and improved the quality of services. To me, leadership accountability is one of the most important ‘soft skills’ that leaders need. ‘Finger pointing’ when plans fall short of expectations isn’t productive and successful leaders don’t do it.

# # #

I’m convinced that all successful leaders have the ability to motivate, strategize, and initiate change.

Healthcare leaders also need broad sets of experience and competencies. They’re familiar with operational processes, sensitive to diversity and inclusion issues, knowledgeable about the regulatory environment, and have many ‘soft skills’.

Finding candidates with this range and depth of qualifications is challenging – I know, because that’s what I do for my clients.

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