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What Defines Leadership in Healthcare?

Good leadership can make or break an organization, and leadership in the healthcare industry can be particularly complex given the multitude of processes, resources and people that require effective management in order to provide output in the form of quality patient care.

The qualities required to make a good leader in healthcare are not always easy to come by either. While for some healthcare workers skills or traits like humility, acting as a team player, forward-thinking or being personable may come naturally, others may be required to complete further, specialized study to obtain the skill set required for effective leadership. This is highlighted when looking at the difference between an MSN and a DNP – an MSN (Master of Science Nursing) is a graduate degree that provides advanced clinical skills for a focus on bedside care, while a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) provides these skills with an added focus on systems-thinking – perfect for leadership roles.

Understanding what leadership is in the healthcare industry, the qualities that are needed for a leader and how exactly you can become a leader in healthcare is important information you need to focus your attention and fast-track your career into a leadership role.

What is leadership in healthcare exactly?

Leadership in the healthcare industry can come in the form of many different job titles, and take on a variety of different duties. A human resource manager for example would work on recruiting new talent and ensuring they receive the proper training or support to manage their new role while an operational manager would make sure employees can safely and securely complete their work by ensuring necessary equipment is available to assist them in performing their duties. A practice manager would maintain a business like a general practice and handle recruitment, appointment scheduling, delegation and the general health and well-being of patients and employees, while a medical director would oversee multiple healthcare facilities that fall under their jurisdiction.

Across all these jobs, however, is one fundamental requirement to be a good leader – the ability to make a difference in a workplace and influence others to do the same. A leader who can create a compelling vision for an organization that other people are on board with will always drive motivation and a willingness to work towards this ideal.  Selling this vision requires a certain type of personality, but there are also a number of other recurring qualities consistently found in the best leaders in the industry.

Qualities needed for leadership in healthcare

Research has shown there are many desirable traits required for leaders. Being able to resolve wider system issues as a ‘problem solver”, address workplace culture, support worker well-being and provide clarification and direction are all outcomes of a good leader, but what are the qualities that enable these? We take a look at some of the top qualities below.


Humility is a recurring trait among high-performing leadership figures and is particularly important in the healthcare industry where good collaboration can save lives. Remaining modest and treating oneself as an equal rather than superior towards employees goes a long way toward fostering a healthy work environment. Asking questions of employees and genuinely listening and taking on their answers can help build respect and trust, and create an environment that supports different ways of thinking.

Sharing of information 

Creating a culture that encourages the sharing of information among employees can help boost performance and have a positive impact on the business strategy. Open communication – like humility – fosters trust which means employees are more likely to speak to their leader honestly and openly, which is beneficial in a number of ways including the ability to tackle growing concerns with an employee before they become unmanageable, assisting with the mental health of the employee and even increasing collaboration to generate new ideas or solutions to patient care, business management or even revise business strategy. 


Being able to impart knowledge and experience is a key trait for any good leader. Mentoring colleagues not only contributes to the growth and success of the individual, but to the the organization as well. Whether it is professional development, determining career goals, personal life guidance or helping with a specific task, mentoring helps to support the needs of an employee so they can perform with increased efficiency, accuracy and ability. If it is not in existence, formalizing a mentorship program can help bring consistency and accountability to those who truly want to progress their career with the advice of a strong leader.


Accessibility in the leadership sense is two-fold. Being accessible to employees when required is a vital part of being a quality leader. The last thing any good leader would want is to feel unapproachable to their employees.

Providing accessibility to employee resources is another bucket for this quality. Being able to provide employees with relevant and accessible training, consistent support across their work life and techniques that can support mental health are all important parts of being a leader who provides accessibility to their employees. 

How to become a leader in healthcare

Becoming a leader in healthcare can be done through formal training or natural advancement through the ranks. As mentioned, a DNP can help provide the skills needed for higher leadership roles in a healthcare setting. Conduct research on your particular, desired career path and find a course that can help with the skillset required. Leadership qualities can also be displayed by those not necessarily in leadership roles. Being a supportive, knowledgeable and humble healthcare worker are still wonderful traits to possess without necessarily having the job title.

Everyone provides leadership differently, and different workers will respond to different styles of leadership. It is never, ever, a one-size-fits-all approach. While there are common traits among the best leaders that are crucial to consider, it is important to also carve your own path. Assess the needs of your team or organization and tailor your approach to suit their requirements. Bring out the best in your team to truly call yourself an effective leader!


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