Taking the Lead

By George Hampton

Carrying a tool kit is everyday life for a healthcare technology management (HTM) professional. We all do it or did it. If you do it long enough (for me that was 16 years), you might have an opportunity to move into a leadership position. It’s a major decision, and one rife with uncertainties. Moving from hourly to salary seems to be foremost in most candidates’ minds, you can do the math, and it’s possible to calculate a first year loss of income when considering no overtime pay. More responsibility is a less tangible worry. You will be the face of your program. Earning the respect of your peers in this new role is also a matter for concern. I hope I haven’t painted a hopeless picture. All of these concerns can be overcome with the right attitude and a bit of aptitude, which is the point of this article.

One of the unfortunate trends I have observed in my roles as an HTM consultant, and in my own experience in leadership, is that in our industry we don’t do a very good job preparing our techs for leadership opportunities. We often promote individuals into leadership positions based on technical accomplishments, such as skill level or tenure, as opposed to leadership traits. To be fair, both skills and experience in the field are great contributors to the success of an HTM leader, but they don’t prepare one for the additional performance elements, such as financial analysis, team building, and leadership.

There are several factors that contribute to this oversight. One is that in the overall management structure of a hospital or health care system, HTM operations might report to a larger body that doesn’t fully understand the necessary skillset for a successful leader. Consequently, these important considerations are lost in the recruitment process. Secondly, the potential candidate can be blind to their own shortcomings in this area. The good news is these skills can be learned. New managers can transform themselves and their shop operations by investing in these key learning areas:

Financial Analysis — What seemed to be the most difficult area of learning for me in my development as a manager turned out to be one of the most satisfying. I found that my technical abilities provided a great common sense platform for understanding the finances of HTM. The more I learned the more I was able to create programmatic changes that produced substantial cost savings. As a consultant, I found that too many clients I worked with didn’t have full access to the financial information regarding their operations. They had their arms figuratively tied behind their backs.

In our current health care environment, leaders of HTM programs need to know if their programs are effective and provide appropriate cost savings. Contract reduction, benchmarking, and long-term planning are impossible without access to, and an understanding of, monthly financial reports. The ideal scenario is that the monthly financial analysis is pushed up from the HTM manager to administration. This shows appropriate professionalism on the part of the manager, creates an environment of trust between the manager and his supervisor, and protects the program from speculative cutbacks that could adversely affect their operations. Opposite of this is a world where the manager is called on the carpet to explain financial variances, noted by parties unfamiliar with some of the crazy but necessary expenses in our industry.

Team Building — It is very challenging to move from being on a team to leading that team. One popular author likens it to moving from the dance floor to being on a balcony, where the dance can be seen in more clarity. There is first of all the need to understand that “building” a team is essential, when one’s previous point of view might have been that such matters were more accidental. Additionally, an effective leader must understand the personality traits of individual team members, use the performance review and goals process to drive team behavior, and model desirable team member traits for their subordinates. Team building is a process that demands attention and intentional communication. The results can revolutionize shop operations and create best-in-class performance.

Leadership – There is apparently no limit to the volumes of books detailing essential strengths for effective leaders, the surveys that help one discover their leadership style, and the matrices that show the important change in focus for leaders as opposed to frontline workers. If I had to summarize those ideas, I would say the following:

Leaders need to be very self-aware, able to dynamically determine their roles based on the challenges they face. Additionally, they need to guide their own development based on their innate skills and traits. The fact that so many books are written on this topic by so many enlightened people is proof that we don’t typically figure this out on our own when thrust into a leadership role.
In my own experience, the early days of self-discovery and exposure to leadership philosophies were a bit disheartening. I had to deal with the revelation that my knowledge of the daily operations of the shop and my technical skills weren’t enough to ensure my success as a leader. I was unaware of how my personal style would affect and influence my team members based on their own style. I became a student at a time when I felt I needed to be an educator. In retrospect, that humbling experience was the best first lesson. A great way to minimize the length of time you find yourself inadequate in the esoteric world of leadership is to find a coach or mentor within your organization. Regular meetings to discuss experiences and solutions will accelerate your understanding and aid you in your evolution.

A final word of advice: Be true to who you are. We all need to grow into our roles, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of your natural gifts and sensibilities.

George Hampton is the president of Tech Knowledge Associates, a clinical technology management provider that was formed to bring unique value to its clients by guaranteeing savings, capping their expenses and protecting them from catastrophic failures. For more information, contact TKA at info@ii-techknow.com or visit ii-techknow.com.