Necessary Skills for Leadership in Healthcare

A team of clinician leaders.

Effective healthcare leadership requires applying a variety of skills, including being able to manage conflicts between team members, respond to changes across the industry, adhere to patient safety guidelines and optimize a health organization’s financial performance. In leadership roles such as hospital administrator and medical practice manager, today’s healthcare leaders are expected to excel in all of these capacities and many others. So what’s the best way to develop these abilities?


Earning an online MBA with a healthcare focus ― like the HCMBA from the George Washington University ― is a start, as this advanced degree combines traditional MBA coursework with electives and graduate certificate options in multiple aspects of health management. MBA graduates have the managerial and health-specific expertise to implement well-designed strategies at hospitals, clinics and other practices. Let’s look at some of the particular leadership skills that help healthcare professionals stand out in the job market and thrive in their roles.

An Understanding of Costs, Reimbursements and The Bottom Line

The costs of medical care as well as how providers are reimbursed for their services have changed significantly over time. High-deductible insurance plans have become more common, while premiums have also increased substantially. From 2003 to 2018, the average premium for single coverage nearly doubled to $6,896, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

At the same time, some medical providers have begun shifting from traditional fee-for-service compensation for services to value-based reimbursement (VBR). The latter model, which is supported by some Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services programs, evaluates the quality of the care provided in an effort to better align outcomes and costs. It has major ramifications for how providers are paid, and it’s up to health leaders to navigate the transition.

For example, a hospital administrator with an MBA might need to work out the right payment and collection plans, service rates, and patient satisfaction and quality metrics to ensure that the facility is on track to hit its VBR goals. The financial acumen developed in MBA courses in accounting, strategic management, and healthcare quality and outcomes is valuable in handling such tasks.

Conflict Management and Resolution Skills

Conflicts between personnel and departments are common in healthcare settings, due in part to the large number of stakeholders in an environment such as a hospital or clinic. Aside from patients and doctors, nurses and medical staff, there are other engaged parties including department heads, administrators and boards of trustees whose interests also have to be reconciled.

Transformational team leadership in healthcare will ensure that standard processes are in place for remediating conflicts and in turn producing positive outcomes for as many involved individuals or groups as possible. For example, a leader might set up negotiations for a complex problem related to which practitioners patients see when they visit an orthopedics practice.

Such a situation can be tricky to navigate, since it might entail dealing with doctors who prioritize their autonomy, along with patients who have simple ailments that could be treated by a physician’s assistant (PA) but who prefer to see an actual MD. Each conflict will be unique and require a specialized approach.

Healthcare leaders should have the communication skills to serve as effective negotiators and mediators who can minimize the damage of conflicts while also making necessary improvements to processes and working relationships. They should also apply what they have learned in resolving conflicts to the recruiting and hiring processes that they often oversee.

Organizational Change Management

Healthcare environments are constantly evolving. Whether the changes involve new reimbursement models or adjustments in the workloads of doctors and PAs, there’s always the possibility of significant shifts in how a medical practice operates, and health leaders have to be prepared.

A change management strategy in healthcare must encompass everything from how medical personnel and vendors are credentialed to the upgrade cycles for equipment and software in the IT department. Accordingly, a healthcare leader might perform tasks such as:

  • Keeping up with applicable changes in the regulatory landscape, including shifts to VBR and rules pertaining to electronic health records
  • Identifying causes of medical error and implementing improvements that prioritize patient safety and satisfaction
  • Managing an organization after a merger or acquisition, or preparing for the possibility of such a transaction
  • Better aligning care delivery with patient expectations, such as through the implementation of telehealth programs or online scheduling portals
  • Planning and conducting trainings for personnel so they follow institutional guidelines and regulatory obligations
  • Overseeing the rollout of a new IT system such as one that uses cloud-based components

Ultimately, leaders must be proactive in how they manage change in their healthcare organizations. The high stakes of delivering safe and effective care, plus the many moving parts of the health ecosystem, means that a purely reactive approach can put patients and providers at risk. Transformative leaders will anticipate and plan for major changes so patients and teams aren’t left behind.

A Concerted Focus on Patient Safety

We mentioned medical errors earlier, but this issue deserves more attention, as it is one that leaders like hospital administrators will have to confront regularly. Between 250,000 and 400,000 people die annually in the U.S. from preventable errors in hospitals.

These issues can include anything from incorrect dosages of medications to computer errors that misclassify a patient or corrupt data about their condition. Healthcare leaders are responsible for recognizing where and why life-threatening errors occur and introducing the appropriate measures for eliminating them.

An administrator might set up a standardized reporting process for documenting errors, implement specialized technologies that help minimize routine errors in workflows like physician order entry and oversee trainings on best practices for error avoidance. All of these measures can help make the environment safer for patients.

How Can an Online Health MBA Help Develop Leadership Skills?

The online GW HCMBA features a wide-ranging curriculum with courses in MBA subjects such as accounting and strategic management, alongside healthcare-specific electives and graduate certificate options. Moreover, the program’s applied focus helps students reliably put what they’ve learned into practice in real-world healthcare environments so they’re prepared to take on the diverse responsibilities of a modern healthcare leadership role.

To learn more about actual student outcomes for MBA graduates, visit this page. You can also download the program’s brochure for additional details.

Recommended Reading

7 Careers in Healthcare That Leverage Strategic Leadership

How Healthcare Leaders Are Braving Turbulent Times

George Washington University Healthcare MBA Program


The Third-leading Cause of Death in America

Four Steps to Resolving Conflicts in Health Care

What Are The Value-based Programs?