The best laboratorians on your team may aspire to careers in management, a shift that can benefit your institution. This change, however, requires a different set of skills for a smooth transition, and raises the question: How can you prepare great laboratorians to be great managers? Lab leaders from some of the nation's top clinical institutions identify four key strategies.
Though obvious, this first step can get lost in the mix of daily obligations. If your organization has a formal program in organizational development and leadership (OLAD), make time for your aspiring managers to get out of the lab and take advantage of the opportunity. Diane Kremitske, Vice President of Laboratory Operations at Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa, advises, "There are a lot of tools out there, but you have to be deliberate about choosing to go down that path." Kremitske sends her "emerging leaders" to Geisinger's "high potentials" program, a 9 to 12-month process of training, coaching, and feedback.
"OLAD is a resource we need to take more advantage of," says Paula Santrach, chief quality officer at the Mayo Clinic, which has a project to teach the "Plan-Do-Study-Act" (PDSA) quality improvement process to front-line employees. Each PDSA team includes an OLAD specialist who identifies employees with leadership potential and provides them with support and training.
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has a lecture series for residents that focuses on management, points out James Nichols, medical director of clinical chemistry and point-of-care testing. "We can draw on our economics, communications, and business management departments to bring some of those basic skills to our residents before they get out into the field."
Laboratorians with dynamic skill sets can step into any role at any time, Nichols explains, and this cross-organizational knowledge also makes it easier for them to move into management. "Everyone has to be able to cross over. You can't just have one person who knows the skill." Vanderbilt's training program teaches laboratorians the skills and technologies they need and enables them to move on to any specialty.
Geisinger's Kremitske recommends steering emerging leaders to mentoring programs starting to be offered by professional societies, and to also look for mentors in other areas of your organization. For example, have a laboratorian shadow a point-of-care coordinator to learn how to interact with people across the organization. "Our point of care coordinators do operate on multiple levels, with physicians, with nursing, with other laboratorians," she says. "They really have to have a broad range of being able to interrelate across multiple levels of the organization."
No skill is more important for a manager than being able to communicate up and down the ladder and across the organization—and it's vital for laboratorians to learn to transcend "labspeak" when they leave the lab. "We're doing more interpretive services and interacting more day to day with physicians than we did 20 years ago," says Nichols. "We are looking for people who can speak outside the lab, have good presentation skills, and are capable of interacting in a multi-disciplinary way." These leaders need to "be able to write protocols and procedures in a non-technical fashion" in order to convey them to nurses and physicians.
But in the end, Nichols adds, management training is as much art as science. "We all struggle with how to teach management. There is no one book you can go to and say, 'This is the Bible of management, and if you read this, you have good management skills.'"
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