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How to become a healthcare leader: Styles and skills you need to know

Nursing staff reviewing at post-it on glass

At a glance

  • Leadership in healthcare often involves one or more of the following management styles: transactional, innovative and situational.
  • Good leaders in healthcare must also implement such skills as empathy, effective communication, technological prowess and adaptable decision-making.
  • University of Phoenix prepares leaders for tomorrow’s challenges with a variety of postgraduate degrees in healthcare.

Leadership in a healthcare setting demands more than acting as an authority figure. It requires providing examples for others to follow and helping to build a culture that fosters communication and fellowship rather than focusing on hierarchies. This open workplace culture can also positively impact patients by improving the quality of care and experiences.

Like any job that requires leading a team or managing operations, a solid educational base can help provide the foundation to succeed in a leadership role. Also, you need to be willing to get insight and guidance from veteran administrators. You can then develop a specific leadership style and gain the skills necessary to deal with the challenges of healthcare administration.

Here's a deeper look into what it takes to become a leader in healthcare. 

Effective healthcare leadership plays a crucial role in shaping the culture of a healthcare organization. It also ensures that all the employees in the organization are able and ready to tackle complex issues.

There are many different management techniques, and most decision-makers and delegators rely on a hybrid of styles. However, three common styles are prevalent in healthcare. 

Leadership styles in healthcare

Effective healthcare leadership plays a crucial role in shaping the culture of a healthcare organization. It also ensures that all the employees in the organization are able and ready to tackle complex issues.

There are many different management techniques, and most decision-makers and delegators rely on a hybrid of styles. However, three common styles are prevalent in healthcare. 

Transactional leadership

The transactional leadership approach establishes a clear delineation between leaders and followers.

Staff members under this type of leadership implicitly agree to follow the administration's directions and complete assignments to the expected level of quality.

The principles of transactional leadership include organization, supervision, and explicit performance standards and expectations.

Transactional systems often lead to such benefits as a highly organized institution with clearly measurable performance indicators.

However, transactional leadership also has drawbacks. Problems may include limited creativity among staff, fear of making improvement suggestions and a lack of community within the workplace. 

Innovative leadership

Innovative leadership focuses on developing a creative, problem-solving-oriented workplace that embraces unpredictable and difficult circumstances. Innovative leaders create a workplace culture that values people who come up with unique solutions to problems.

Some benefits of innovative leadership include increased creativity and the use of emerging technologies and cutting-edge research within the organization.

However, this leadership style can also lead to decreased productivity and efficiency as employees focus on innovation rather than necessary day-to-day tasks. 

Situational leadership

Situational leadership is based on the idea that different situations require different leadership styles. Situational leaders often examine the task at hand before determining the best approach.

The benefits of situational leadership include increased flexibility and productivity. Also, this style is more employee-focused because it concentrates on getting the best employee performance in the given situation.

Drawbacks include confusion among employees and leadership due to changes in expectations or standards.

Healthcare management and administration are not the same thing. Learn more on our blog!

Healthcare leadership skills

Regardless of which leadership style you choose to adopt, all healthcare leaders need essential clinical and social skills to be effective in their roles. These include:

●      Empathy: Medical leaders need to be able to recognize and understand the emotions, motives and concerns of others and be sensitive to their position. If you are an empathetic healthcare leader, you can understand why employees react to certain situations. You can then use these insights to facilitate better communication and improve relations with your staff.

●      Communication: Good communication skills allow you to convey your objectives to other employees. They also enable you to create an efficient workplace with clear expectations.

●      Technological management: Modern healthcare leaders need to understand how technology can improve medical outcomes, efficiency and organization. The knowledge and skills to make decisions about high-tech resources and digital upgrades are essential for today's healthcare leaders. 

●      Adaptive problem-solving and decision-making: Healthcare leaders must adapt to specific situations and make quick decisions. Medical facilities often are confronted with complex situations and challenges, and staff members ultimately look to leadership to guide them through these difficulties.

Healthcare leaders also need management skills and the specific knowledge necessary to oversee healthcare operations. Some of these abilities will come naturally, while others will develop over time and with experience. 

Challenges facing healthcare leaders

Just like business leaders, healthcare administrators have to manage challenges. These issues range from minor internal disagreements to much larger systemic matters.

Some of the problems confronting today's healthcare leaders are: 

●      Staff shortages: Leaders in the healthcare industry have to develop ways of dealing with the growing shortage of skilled and qualified primary care providers. This problem is especially pronounced in occupations like nursing and medical technology.

●      Healthcare policy: Healthcare policy is sometimes confusing, especially when it comes to insurance-related matters. Healthcare leaders need to be able to decipher the latest laws and regulations and make changes to their own operations if required.

●      Technological adoption: The increasing adoption of technology in healthcare has led to improvements in outcomes and patient experience. Electronic records and telemedicine are welcome advances, but these technologies introduce new challenges. Healthcare systems are now vulnerable to cyberattacks, and leaders need to ensure that employees still abide by patient privacy rules when using new technology. 

Why is effective healthcare leadership important?

Effective healthcare leadership can improve patient outcomes and experiences, increase employee satisfaction and performance, and improve the efficiency and profitability of an entire healthcare organization.

As a healthcare leader, you can also take important steps to shift the focus of a medical organization to patient- and public health-focused philosophies, like the Triple Aim framework. These patient-centered approaches seek to shape an affordable, effective healthcare industry that creates a culture of health in the general public instead of simply treating patients after they become ill.

Skilled healthcare leaders know how to ensure employee welfare and well-being. When employees are satisfied with their workplace and its culture, they are usually more motivated, take pride in their work and are willing to contribute to the organization's overall success.

Effective healthcare leadership is also crucial for collecting resources, setting policy and formulating budgets as well as long-term strategies. These steps ensure good patient care and worker satisfaction, but they can also help guide the entire organization to a more efficient, profitable and secure future. 

Preparing for a leadership role in healthcare

If your career goals include a healthcare leadership position, there are things you can do to take control of your career. In addition to education, internships and entry-level jobs, you should consider nontraditional steps, such as finding a mentor to help you develop the necessary skills. 


While postgraduate degrees may not be mandatory for some healthcare administration jobs, some organizations do require an advanced healthcare degree, which may also be able to help enhance your career and help you take on more responsibilities.

One degree that may be useful in helping you become a competent leader in the industry is a combined Master of Health Administration and Master of Business Administration degree, which teaches both the administrative and business aspects of healthcare management.

You can also pursue more specialized degrees, such as a Master of Health Administration with a concentration in Health Care Compliance and Privacy or a Master of Health Administration with a concentration in Informatics.

More patient-facing leadership roles might be available for professionals with a Master of Science in Nursing. Meanwhile, if you prefer to focus on health issues in the broader community, you might consider a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Community Health Leadership.

All these postgraduate degrees require a bachelor's degree first. 


You can also learn a lot about leadership by getting firsthand experience in the field of healthcare. Whether you work in a patient-facing job like nursing or find employment as an entry-level administrator, you will have a chance to understand the day-to-day needs of a healthcare organization. Also, it will allow you to learn the skills necessary to succeed in higher-level decision-making positions. 


In your preparations for a leadership position in healthcare, you can also benefit from getting to know and working with a mentor who already has leadership experience. Finding and working with mentors helps you develop vital skills and character traits while enabling you to create a social network of industry leaders.

Mentorship experiences can also help you build social capital, which can be helpful in future employment searches or for networking with other healthcare leaders to come up with solutions to common problems in the industry.

Leadership in healthcare can make a difference not just between life and death but in the kind of life others lead. To do it well takes time, self-reflection and a willingness to learn. But the reward can change the world.

Want more leadership tips? Take a peek at our article on organizational leadership!

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