10 Essential Skills for Today’s Healthcare Quality Leaders

Healthcare is changing and so are the leadership requirements for running an efficient quality system. With all of the industry focus on QI methodologies such as Lean and Six Sigma there is not nearly enough emphasis on quality system leadership and infrastructure. Investments in QI methodologies won’t make a bit of difference if hospitals and healthcare organizations don’t have the infrastructure to execute. Skilled leadership is fundamental to success.

Below are the top 10 competences for succeeding as a healthcare quality leader:

1. Skill mapping and talent management
Stacking the deck with clinical superstars is not necessarily the best strategy in the current healthcare climate. Today’s quality team must be skill diverse, flexible, and interpersonally effective. Aptitude for decoding patient care issues is just as important as the ability to develop multidisciplinary improvement teams, guide data management, leverage existing technology, and grasp the quality/cost equation. The profile of today’s quality management system (QMS) has moved beyond clinical. Recognizing new competences, mapping skills, identifying gaps, and recruiting to achieve a balanced team are top proficiencies of the modern quality leader.

2. Vision for quality system alignment and obliteration of silos
Except for large academic medical centers, the days of organizing QMS resources around distinct job functions have vanished. Resources are limited and ongoing separation of patient safety from patient experience or clinical quality from cost management is neither practical nor productive. True excellence can only be achieved at the intersection of all of these contributing factors. A unified QMS increases overall quality capacity and builds organizational resilience. It also ensures focus on the things that matter most to the success of the organization.

3. The ability to transform the context of measurement
The problem for many hospitals is not the lack of data; there are plenty of numbers floating around. The problem is the lack of information. Countless reports are created and circulated but the data are rarely understood, validated, or applied. Organizations wind up with heaps of idle documents and improvised decision-making. One of the most valuable attributes healthcare quality leaders bring to an organization is the ability to transform performance measurement; to integrate measurement into the social fabric of the organization in a positive way. As the saying goes, more is not better. The ability to select the right metrics and to create a positive context for harnessing the information offers profound competitive advantages. The ultimate proof lies in the decision-making process; good data makes your decisions better, faster, and more consistent.


There is no shortage of data









4. Clinical transformation know-how
The QMS would seem like an obvious participant in clinical informatics strategy, but often times the quality team misses out on technology planning and implementation. Better system integration and enhanced capacity for clinical data mining are certainly within the quality leader‘s scope of influence. IT vendors are adept at promoting the data analysis capabilities of their clinical software. The job of the QMS leader is to vet these assertions and oversee full implementation of clinical reporting. When it comes to healthcare IT, the quality leader is a vital member of the both the section and implementation teams.

5. Ability to optimize novel communication platforms and social strategies
Managing the flow of information can be tough, even for the best leadership teams. Enterprise social media, when deployed correctly, is one of the most underutilized communication strategies in hospitals and healthcare organizations today. Applications like SharePoint can be deployed within the organization’s firewall and can have a profound effect on the flow of quality-related information. The key benefits: better access to data, dynamic sharing, profiling of internal subject matter experts, streamlining of QI tools and project documents, and better QI team organization. The use of web-based collaborative software can significantly enhance the work of the QMS.

6. Aptitude for rebuilding QMS culture
Outmoded QMS design, functional silos, obsolete job descriptions, and a static operating model are basic elements of the traditional QMS culture that will categorically fail in a value-based healthcare climate. QMS leaders must have a vision for next generation healthcare QMS and the fortitude to execute change.

7. Working knowledge of Implementation Science
Healthcare quality improvement teams have become adept at developing protocols and writing order sets. The problems I see are not so much related to the issue of what to do but rather to the actual doing; the execution. Use of implementation strategies to adopt and integrate evidence-based interventions and drive change in practice patterns is a must for today’s quality leaders. The science helps focus attention on that critical juncture between behavior of the healthcare professional, standardized evidence-based protocols, and clinical process design. Understanding the relationship between process and outcome is a highly valuable leadership skill.

8. Relationship Building and negotiation skills
The ability to build strong networks at all levels of the organization correlates with growing emphasis on continuity of care. QI projects are rarely “contained” within one department or patient care area. Quality leaders are responsible for conveying QI across the continuum. This means, for example, facilitating integrated process improvement between the ED and the ICU for superior sepsis care. Good relationships make the simple human interfaces effortless, and the difficult ones manageable.

9. Vision for optimizing lessons learned and diffusing organizational learning
Recognizing and hard-wiring success across the organization makes perfect sense but few organizations are doing it well. High performing leaders will simplify ways to distribute learning across the organization.

10. A keen sense of adventure
Willingness to take risks and lead change when the path is anything but well-defined.


There you have it. Now it’s your turn – what skills would you want to see in a healthcare quality leader?




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I blog about the intersection of quality management systems, evidence-based clinical practices, and implementation science within hospitals and healthcare organizations.