Healthcare Leadership Skills: Leading Through a Crisis

An overhead view of someone working on a laptop at a desk with paperwork, glasses and a stethoscope.

Effective leadership of any healthcare organization means focusing on extensive training, planning, and preparation for inevitable crises. Preparation includes prioritizing prompt, clear communication with both the outside world and internal teams, with the goal of avoiding damage to the reputation of the organization going through the crisis. It is important to have the team, training, and action plan for a crisis situation well established long before the inevitable transpires.

Leaders who are confident and able to maintain emotional control are important players during difficult times. As individuals build their healthcare leadership skills and pursue an advanced degree, such as an online Healthcare MBA, they will develop the ability to prepare for the worst while minimizing potential damage to their organization.

Current Challenges That Healthcare Leaders Face

Today’s healthcare leaders face an eclectic collection of hurdles that must be cleared to provide quality leadership that makes a difference. It is important to understand these challenges and why they can stand in the way of healthcare effectiveness and efficiency.

Tax Reform

Republicans passed a tax bill in December 2017 that, among other things, led to the elimination of penalties for people who choose not to have health insurance, which was part of the original Affordable Care Act in 2010. Experts worried that the elimination of the penalty, which didn’t start officially rolling out until 2019, would lead to less coverage of the elderly and poor Americans; less revenue for doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare businesses; as well as a potentially less healthy and productive workforce.

Studies indicate concerns may have been warranted. In an annual report published in 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics revealed that 31.6 million, or 9.7%, Americans of all ages. This has a direct impact on healthcare leaders, as this number can translate to fewer doctor visits, hospital stays, and sales of drugs and medical devices.

Cybersecurity Concerns

The work of healthcare is increasingly digital, relying on electronic health records (EHRs), automated clinical systems, and digital work systems that use mobile devices, remote access, and data sharing. While these innovations are productive in many ways, they also increase the privacy and security risks for a substantial amount of patient information, including patient names, date, and place of birth, medical records, and Social Security numbers.

Unfortunately, it’s hard for hospitals to defend against attacks due to their small budgets, disorganized information technology systems, and reliance on legacy security systems. What’s more, hackers are increasingly plentiful and skilled, making cyberattacks hard to detect.

Such an attack could have many negative results. The alteration of a person’s medical record could lead to serious health consequences, while the dissemination of their personal information could cause significant damage to their finances. Cybercriminals can reap massive profits from stealing patients’ information — patient records have been valued at $250 apiece, according to a recent Trustwave report.

Develop a Crisis Plan

Those with strong healthcare leadership skills will know that planning ahead is the key to successfully guiding a team through a crisis event. The following steps compose just a few of the elements of a crisis preparation plan:

  • Organize your crisis management team. Although this group of people will only come online during an actual crisis, the team will need to prepare in advance and generally should meet at quarterly intervals. They will develop and rehearse a set of action plans to implement when required. Leaders of these teams will need to designate an appropriate location for members to meet and may be responsible for assigning particular roles to each individual. Determine who will send messages, speak directly to the media, be the main contact person, and so on.
  • Train and rehearse crisis communication. During a crisis, the outside world will be demanding information. Ignoring media requests for information is likely to backfire; even something as simple as, “A full statement will be delivered as quickly as possible,” is helpful when properly delivered. Make sure each team member fully understands and is well-practiced in their role in communicating information to the public through multiple channels, including broadcast and social media sources, as well as during face-to-face interactions.
  • Be ready to call in your team and take action. Leaders in a crisis will be responsible for calling in their crisis management team members and relaying information to them, which they will then communicate to the public. Clear, professional, and ethical communication has been shown to retain public confidence most consistently. A calm presence is also extremely reassuring and is best achieved when crisis team members are well prepared in advance.

Future of Healthcare Leadership

Healthcare has a lot to contend with, including an advanced business cycle, a reduction in aggregate spending, and a costly regulatory structure. It can feel overwhelming.

George Washington University’s online Healthcare MBA program can help students develop the essential skills required to navigate these challenges. Our program can set you up to make good decisions under pressure by studying decision-making, data analysis, and how to measure employee strengths. You can also learn how to manage a diverse staff through the study of organizations and human capital.

Our Healthcare MBA can provide you with the foundation necessary to thrive in turbulent times by studying current issues and trends in the healthcare system, learning about contemporary health and social policy issues, and becoming well versed in the policies that shape how to deliver cutting-edge, quality healthcare.

Types of Healthcare Leadership Skills

Healthcare leadership skills are critical in minimizing any damage to the reputation of a care facility during and after a crisis. Therefore, it’s crucial that you develop a strong set of leadership skills to effectively lead others through the healthcare industry’s challenges.


Communication skills are vital from a group perspective, as clear and unambiguous communication can help ensure healthcare teams or departments are on the same page. However, effective communication on an individual level is also crucial, as maintaining regular personal interactions with staff can foster trust, inclusiveness, and a sense of teamwork.


Planning skills involve not only setting achievable goals for a healthcare team but also creating a strategy to build toward reaching those goals. This competency dovetails with strong communication skills, as excellent communication can make achieving a vision for the future much more attainable.


Self-education should also be part of your leadership skill set. The healthcare field is constantly evolving, with changes and challenges regularly arising in areas such as technological innovation and healthcare regulation. By staying on top of what is on the healthcare horizon, you can prepare your facility to manage these changes with greater efficiency, which could have a positive effect on care delivery.

Prepare to Lead

Individuals with the right knowledge and skills can meet healthcare crises and challenges head-on. George Washington University’s online Healthcare MBA program can help grow your confidence and expand your leadership skill set. Our program is designed to help you gain expertise in leading others and making a positive impact on care delivery. Discover how our program can help prepare you to overcome some of healthcare’s biggest challenges today.

Recommended Readings

The Ethical Gray Areas of Data in Healthcare Business

The Key to Saving Your Hospital

What Can You Do with an MBA in Healthcare?


American College of Healthcare Executives, “Rethinking Crisis Management in Healthcare”

The Fox Group, “A Crisis Communication Plan in Healthcare Is a Priority. But It’s Not Urgent”, Affordable Care Act (ACA), The Fee for Not Having Health Insurance, What Is an Electronic Health Record (EHR)?

National Center for Health Statistics, "Health Insurance Coverage: Early Release of Estimates From the  National Health Interview Survey, 2020"

National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey Early Release Program, Crisis Communications Plan

SecureLink, “Hackers, Breaches, and the Value of Healthcare Data”