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3 Management Skills Every Healthcare Leader Needs

Today’s healthcare leaders face significant challenges. Here are the key management skills you need to succeed in healthcare—and how an MBA can help


Thu Aug 26 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the leadership of the healthcare sector into the spotlight and demand for healthcare leaders who combine medical knowledge with business savvy is growing. 

While healthcare systems have organized to protect populations and save lives, many challenges remain. One in 11 posts in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), for example, remain unfilled. Innovative healthcare leaders are required to build smarter, more efficient healthcare systems.


The new Online MBA Clinical Leadership, from the University of Birmingham, is helping healthcare professionals develop the skills needed to lead the healthcare sector, covering the fundamentals of management combined with a focus on health services management. In an upcoming webinar, the University of Birmingham aims to answer the questions of what a clinically-led organization truly looks like, and this program is trying to make that idea a reality. 


The 100%-online, AMBA-accredited MBA program is targeted at clinical or non-clinical professionals looking to progress to senior healthcare management roles, as well as current healthcare leaders keen to further develop their management skills. Well regarded, the course ranks 13th in the best online MBAs in the world by QS. 

So what key management skills does every healthcare leader need? Iain Snelling, co-director for the new program, jointly delivered through Birmingham Business School and the Health Services Management Centre, shares his thoughts on the most in-demand skills for healthcare leaders.

1. Medical Leadership

Generalist management skills are critical for successful healthcare leaders, but specialized knowledge of working in the healthcare sector is equally important.

Healthcare organizations led by clinical staff—people who work in a hospital whose duties include care or medical treatment of patients—often perform better than those where there are fewer clinicians in senior management roles, Iain claims.

“Improved clinical leadership is also crucial when leading individual services: Boards of organizations establish important elements of context, but without effective leadership in individual services, improvements will not be made,” Iain notes.

The MBA Clinical Leadership, therefore, offers three specialized modules that address current health service challenges: Governance, policy & regulation; Leading clinicians; and Digital Health. These modules help clinical professionals expand on their knowledge, while professionals without a clinical background have the opportunity to build their clinical expertise. 

“The modules address the complex processes through which organizations assure the quality of services within external regulatory frameworks, the specific challenges and opportunities of leading clinicians, and the fundamental importance of a range of digital technology in developing health services,” Iain explains.

Healthcare professionals who balance this specialized knowledge with core management skills are well-prepared to reach senior leadership roles.

While healthcare organizations are the most likely recruiters of graduates from Birmingham’s MBA Clinical Leadership, others include government ministries, regulatory agencies, international agencies, management consulting firms, and the pharma and life science industries.

“Healthcare spending invariably accounts for around 10% of GDP in high-income countries,” Iain concludes. “The demand for graduates with skills across general management and healthcare organizations is likely to grow.”

2. Agility

Today’s healthcare leaders need to constantly adapt to shifting challenges and working environments.

Working from home during the pandemic has seen leaders contend with new technologies and changing working styles. Under pressure from Covid, resources have been stretched. At the same time, the impact of climate change continues to increase pressure on healthcare systems.

“Clinicians, health care executives, policy-makers, and those in related industries need to understand and be able to respond to these challenges,” Iain, who previously worked as co-director of the educational element of the NHS Graduate Training Scheme and the NHS Clinical Leadership Fellows programs, explains.

“[They] need to ensure that the quality of patient care is maximized whilst the cost of care is contained.

“This new MBA Clinical Leadership meets a growing global demand for health systems to better respond to new and emerging challenges such as demographic and cultural change as well as health-related challenges such as global pandemics.”

3. Crisis Management

The pandemic has demonstrated just how important it is for healthcare leaders to prepare for the worst and to ensure that when a crisis hits, it can be managed.

“As the world faces a global pandemic and struggles to respond to rising demand for health care, the importance of better-trained leaders cannot be under-estimated,” Iain explains. But medical training alone is not enough to handle such crises.


Healthcare leaders need a broader understanding of how the system operates as a business. MBA programs provide this fundamental management training, covering topics including strategy, economics, and supply chain management. 

Focusing on being a leader as well as a clinician can help healthcare professionals establish an authoritative, guiding voice in a crisis. The goal of the MBA program, Iain notes, is to increase the number of clinicians in senior leadership positions and on the boards of organizations.