How do we develop effective leaders in the aged care industry?

By Lauren Todorovic

Developing effective leadership and management teams in the aged care sector is critical for improving staff retention and job satisfaction, maintaining a high quality of care and well-being of residents and the long-term economic viability of an organisation.

A common theme that exists across not only the aged care industry but also the healthcare industry is that there is inadequate preparation for people transitioning into middle management leadership roles. This inadequate preparation is then compounded by a lack of key performance indicators to assess leadership and management skills and of clear guidelines.

A report published by The Department of Health & Ageing highlights that the lack of management action and the behaviour of some managers was a highly significant factor impacting on employee turnover in the nursing profession. Nursing leaders themselves confirm that the culture in healthcare services across Australia needed to improve and evolve their standard practices to develop a more supportive and strong leadership that drives collaborative and supportive action. All of which would help organisations to improve contemporary clinical practices as well as improve staff work experiences.

Middle management roles are often held by registered nurses that have sound clinical skills but have not had the same opportunities to develop their leadership skills. In many cases this is due to minimal leadership experiences and no formal mentor programs or up-skilling when taking on new responsibility.

Often new middle managers find it challenging to reconcile the professional values and practices of their former role with what is expected of them with new responsibilities.

Firstly, there are the new challenges of managing the roster, informing ‘work mates’ there’s no money in the budget to extend the shift on the busiest of times, or worse still actually having to manage the budget, often with no or little formal training in the area.

Secondly, where they find themselves in a position of authority having to make executive decisions, managing not only residents but also staff, while working out which management style to adopt. Balancing discipline and mitigating risk can be a challenge for nurses, unsure what stance to take with staff - ‘tough boss versus friendly colleague’? Or perhaps there room for both?

The change from clinical focused roles to senior management evoke a number of questions as they are challenging the individual as they move further away from the resident contact and ‘caring for people’, to advancing their career up the ladder - without effective mentoring it sadly can be the beginning of the end.

The are a number of well documented core attributes and competencies that are desirable in leaders

  1. Communication and relationship management,
  2. Professionalism,
  3. Leadership,
  4. Knowledge of the healthcare system, and
  5. Business skills and knowledge.

These core competencies and attribute alone are not what one would expect from a leader. Having said that, there is little evidence specific to the aged care industry around preferred skill sets or how best to develop effective leadership and management in order to grow and develop inspiring and thought provoking leaders of the future. 

Is there a link between effective leadership and improved quality of care?

Good leadership can lead to providers excelling and exceeding the accreditation standards, elevating the quality of service by investing in quality care. However, if there is not strong consistent leadership support and a culture of seeking excellence across the organisation then strategic interventions to create positive change are unlikely to succeed because, put simply, they aren’t required to do so. With a great focus on regulation and compliance within the industry it does place a number of barriers for aspiring leaders to learn from their mistakes and or take risks, historically, making mistakes would result in negative consequences. Whilst this is changing, organisations that haven’t adopted this approach face a significant challenge to not only develop aspiring leaders but also retain them.

In the absence of effective leadership, employee satisfaction can be affected, along with trust in management, the culture of the organisation, commitment to do more than the basic requirements and individual and team effectiveness. Leadership is central to mobilising people and teams towards a common goal, creating a positive working environment that is successful in attracting and retaining a high standard of nursing staff, as well as achieving outstanding health outcomes.

Greater emphasis on industry specific training, education and mentoring programs would see a number of talented clinicians develop into tomorrow’s leaders.

Written by Lauren Todovoric

Lauren is the Director and Founder of Aged Care Report Card. Lauren is passionate about opening up communication channels and information sharing to support quality serviced to elderly people and their loved ones. She is a recognised leader and entrepreneur in the Australian care industry with a strong drive to inspire change and continuous improvement for all.