By Adrian Johansen
Healthcare is one of the industries with a particularly positive outlook over the next 10 years or so. This is particularly the case for those looking to pursue management roles, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting industry-wide job growth of 32% by 2030. One of the more challenging areas of leadership in the healthcare field is that of project management, but it can offer some distinct benefits. Alongside the potential for a lucrative career, you have an opportunity to contribute toward the advancement of public health.
However, being a successful project manager in healthcare is not necessarily the same as in other fields and industries. While some aspects may be similar, there are also some specific management skills to develop, hurdles to overcome, and environments to navigate. It’s not a simple path, but it can certainly be rewarding.
We’re going to examine some of the keys to success as a project manager in healthcare, whether you’re planning a career move or already in the role.
Understand the Role
In most circumstances, the role will be geared toward designing and leading projects to achieve specific health outcomes for patients. Often, project managers are hired by facilities — mostly hospitals — to identify issues within company operations and lead teams to address them efficiently and safely.
It’s worth noting, though, that within the healthcare field, there are various types of project management positions, and this will affect the responsibilities you’re faced with and the environment you operate in. For instance, clinical project managers tend to work in a laboratory setting. They collaborate with trial teams and researchers to take new products from the development stage to hopefully improving the lives of patients. This is a project management position that sees you developing protocols, overseeing the enrollment of test subjects, maintaining bias and safety standards, and usually handling both internal teams and external partners.
Taking time to understand the nuances of your area of healthcare project management is an essential first step in recognizing what skills will help you thrive. While a project manager for a mobile nursing business might need to be adept in creating and monitoring protocols for remote working teams, a hospital project manager may need to find grants for facility improvements. Consider carefully how the tasks, environments, and the teams involved can impact challenges and where your skillset can be best focused to overcome them.
Prioritize People Management
The healthcare industry is composed of many talented, compassionate, and committed professionals. One of the primary influencers of your success as a healthcare project manager is knowing how to effectively lead the collection of workers making up your team. They are not people simply taking care of the day-to-day tasks of each project. When you act correctly, they can be invaluable collaborators who have the tools to innovate in ways to take the project beyond the basic initial goals you set out. In medical fields, this kind of benefit can have an incredible impact on public health.
You need to start by taking time to understand who each of your team members is. This isn’t just a case of having an overview of their particular field of expertise. Get to know their collection of soft skills alongside their technical abilities. Establish what their individual goals are — both for their careers and personal lives. Wherever possible, set them to tasks to give them experiences they are interested in or have personal connections to. This breeds team satisfaction and they’re also more likely to respond well to you as a considerate project manager.
This understanding of your employees also gives you important practical information about their drives. Projects can run for a long time and involve some relatively mundane tasks, so you need to be able to keep your team members engaged and motivated. Utilize your knowledge of your workers to inform motivational tactics that could include reducing boredom by assigning more varied tasks and supporting them through situations you know are challenging for them. Above all else, make it clear to them you are as much a member of the team as a leader of it and work in a way considering the needs and talents of everyone involved.
Project management is rarely about getting things right the first time. Yes, you want to be as efficient as possible. However, the nature of healthcare projects means they are subject to various external influences. In research fields, you may find unexpected reactions from test subjects and in hospital environments, you can be subject to changing administrative priorities. As such, succeeding in healthcare project management is often about how well you can respond to the unknown and unexpected.
You can certainly benefit in this regard from adopting more agile planning procedures. This usually involves not designing your protocols, strategies, and timelines for a project around expectations of a single outcome. Work with your team to better understand what the risks and potential hurdles are for your project. Include options for mitigating disruption for each of these into your documentation. Importantly, make sure your plan also includes time for regular assessment. This allows you to spot some oncoming issues early on and gradually adjust.
Alongside your planning, being a flexible leader also means not taking a dictatorial approach. Empowering your team members to make independent decisions within their expertise and encouraging their input on any processes can boost your project’s agility. This will require you to formalize communications procedures to make sure everybody knows what is happening with the project at any given time.
Healthcare project management can be very different from similar roles in other industries. The processes, responsibilities, and potential impact can make for a challenging career. To gain the best chance of success it’s worth seeking clarity on your role and putting time into working effectively with the people on your team. Remember that tasks can be disrupted in medical fields, so a flexible approach to your projects can help make you a valuable and effective leader in your field.