The five most vital skills for healthcare leaders

Successful healthcare leaders need business competencies and interpersonal or soft skills to guide their organisations to success – but which skills are the real must-haves when recruiting or developing leaders to manage healthcare organisations and teams? The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) ranks five skills as ‘most important for success in healthcare organisations’

This is an edited version of an article first published by People Fluent

Medical leaders. Patient care managers. Health services managers. Healthcare executives. Healthcare administrators. Chief medical officers. What makes someone stand out as an exceptional leader in the healthcare sector? 

In what may be the most comprehensive study of healthcare leadership competencies, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) analysed data from nearly 35,000 healthcare workers to discover which skills are crucial to success, and how to develop those skills in leaders.

In total, CCL identified 16 critical competencies that healthcare leaders need to be successful; of these, five skills were ranked as ‘most important for success in healthcare organisations.’

Employee leadership

The skill most important for leadership success is critical in every company, regardless of industry: the ability to effectively lead people and teams.

A highly variable skill, great leadership requires self-awareness and a particular savvy with interpersonal communication and relationship building. A great leader of people knows how to:

  • Build teams of talented employees.
  • Act with fairness when dealing with direct reports.
  • Delegate decision-making to develop employee skills and confidence.
  • Coach employees and foster their professional development and career opportunities.
  • Drawing on these crucial leadership skills, a great leader creates a strong workplace culture—which, in turn, drives positive trends in employee engagement and retention.

In an industry with cavernous talent gaps, engaging and retaining strong performers is paramount to success—as defined by patient satisfaction and health outcomes.


Even in organisations with seemingly vast budgets, resources always seem to be in shorter-than-ideal supply; we always wish for more time, more and more skilled job candidates, fewer regulatory constraints, and—of course—more budget for our department or programme.

Good 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.

The leaders you want to appoint and develop will possess the hallmarks of resourcefulness.


Healthcare is a fast-paced, high-risk industry. Every decision healthcare practitioners make at work affects a patient’s wellbeing and potentially, their lives. A good leader is one who can navigate within a stressful environment without creating additional stress by reacting impulsively.

With employee burnout at new levels in healthcare, strong leaders must know both how to both manage their own emotions and work-life balance AND how to support and empower employees to take care of themselves.

Change management

In addition to being fast-based and demanding on a daily basis, healthcare is also a constantly and rapidly evolving industry. Healthcare leaders must be sufficiently nimble to quickly grasp, and devise, strategies to manage change coming from, seemingly, all sides, including, for example:

  • Technological advancements in diagnostics and treatment.
  • New and expanding regulatory requirements.
  • Mergers and integrations of healthcare delivery networks.
  • Seismic shifts in the health insurance market.
  • Opioid addiction and other complex health epidemics.

Healthcare organisations rely on their leaders to understand and adapt to changes themselves. They must guide the workforce, navigating the human side of change management. They must understand the importance of using data to drive and inform organisational changes, and they must be savvy enough to use change management as an opportunity to strengthen communities of practice.

Is that a lot to ask? Yes, but such are the demands of modern healthcare leadership.

Participative Management

No leader is an island, and no healthcare organisation can afford to have leaders who think or act like one. 

While strong leaders employ more than one style, healthcare organisations need them to be particularly adept at participatory management. Modern healthcare leaders must 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—and they listen; this investment signals respect and open-mindedness, and a commitment to continuous growth. It engages employees in their work, their teams, and the organisation as a whole.

And, importantly, it clearly demonstrates that leaders value employee contributions and input on strategies. By sustaining employee engagement over time, great leaders elevate their organisations—lowering turnover and improving patient experience, quality of care, and health outcomes.

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