Collaborative Skills in Healthcare Administration
“Collaborative skills are loosely defined as the tools for working with others, be it as individuals, teams, or organizations. Think of them as the soft skills that are harder to quantify. Hard skills like mathematics or accounting have either a right or wrong answer.”
Nick Fabrizio, PhD, Senior Lecturer at Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell University
In the healthcare industry, collaboration is key. For doctors, nurses, and administrative professionals, collaboration is essential to providing the highest quality of care. However, collaboration only happens with thoughtful intervention from healthcare administrators. They are responsible for developing those skills personally and teaching their staff how to work together. Working collaboratively can have a significant impact on patient outcomes.
“Collaborative skills are loosely defined as the tools for working with others, be it as individuals, teams, or organizations,” explains Dr. Nick Fabrizio, senior lecturer and MHA capstone director at the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell University. “Think of them as the soft skills that are harder to quantify. Hard skills like mathematics or accounting have either a right or wrong answer. That’s not the case with collaborative skills. It’s more nuanced, and you don’t always get an immediate answer. New policies, procedures, or decisions you make with personnel won’t always have an immediate effect. Chances are they take months, if not years, to manifest themselves.”
Working collaboratively not only makes for a more pleasant work environment, but it can also positively impact patient outcomes. “I saw improvements all the time as a consultant. We would study what happens to a patient from when they check in to a hospital department or a medical group to when they’re discharged or checked out. Oftentimes, we would find disparate processes that weren’t interrelated. We would then break it down into all the parts and all the processes and look for the overlaps. Lastly, we would bring the departments together and facilitate collaboration to streamline the process and improve the patient experience. But the bottom line was we had to bring people from departments who sometimes never communicate with each other and get them working together,” shares Dr. Fabrizio.
While some of these collaborative skills may be innate, it is essential to be aware of and utilize them. Keep reading to look at healthcare administration’s most critical collaborative skills and explore how administrators can develop those skills.
Meet the Expert: Nick Fabrizio, PhD
Dr. Nick Fabrizio is a senior lecturer at the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell University and the capstone director for the MHA and eMHA programs. He is a highly respected advisor with broad expertise in the public and private sectors. Throughout his career, he has guided numerous companies, government agencies, and top-tier healthcare institutions on various issues, including strategic decision-making, public policy, mergers and acquisitions, crisis management, and technology integration.
He holds an undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Cortland, a master’s of arts from Binghamton University, and a PhD from Walden University.
Top Collaborative Skills Healthcare Leaders Need
According to Dr. Fabrizio, here are some of the top skills healthcare leaders need.
Dr. Fabrizio believes noticing personal strengths and weaknesses is the primary skill for collaboration. “The most important skill is self-reflection. Do a self-assessment, and know what you are good at and what are the things that you want to do. If you’re going to work with people as a healthcare administrator, you must embrace the softer skills and hone in on your personality,” he says. Being self-aware can help leaders also know where their weaknesses are so they can improve on them.
To Dr. Fabrizio, self-awareness is also critically important because it means having a good grasp on career aspirations. By knowing what they are and aren’t good at and what they want to do, professionals who have an affinity for numbers and spreadsheets won’t wind up in people-centric leadership roles where they won’t be as successful. No matter how many classes a person takes on collaborative skills, they can’t be effective if they are unhappy in their job.
Staff want to work collaboratively with leaders they have personal relationships with. This doesn’t mean making all the staff personal friends, but it does mean genuinely caring about people and working hard to see things from their perspective: “For the past 22 years, the students who can connect with people have risen to the top positions in a company. Can you imagine being a chief operating officer unable to connect or work effectively with people? Those who can develop personal relationships well will get selected for and thrive in senior roles,” says Dr. Fabrizio.
Administrators can improve patient outcomes and save costs by effectively resolving conflicts that may arise between patients, employees, providers, and stakeholders. Unfortunately, in many healthcare settings, competing interests can make collaborating hard. The best healthcare administrators will also be excellent mediators: “Sometimes some personalities or department administrators don’t want someone telling you what to do. In those moments, you need to develop trust and help navigate a solution acceptable to all parties,” shares Dr. Fabrizio.
Another skill that is required is to be curious. “You have an open mind to be collaborative. When you start a job, learn about the department as much as possible. And learn not only about your department but all departments that interact with you. The policies and procedures you implement will, in some way, shape, or form, impact other departments, so if you can keep an open mind and learn as much as you can. Don’t make assumptions.
He continues, “One of the key things I say is to be humble. It’s okay that you don’t know everything in your department, let alone what the other departments are doing. Be humble and ask a lot of questions. Always put yourself in the patient’s shoes and ask, ‘How do I improve this for them?’ That’s how you’re going to create collaboration.”
Gain Collaborative Skills
There are many ways that students and aspiring healthcare administration professionals can gain some of these collaborative skills. “The first thing I recommend would be to take a human resource class. It can be a formal university class or an open class available online. There are also seminars, courses, conferences that you could go to that are more topic- and subject-specific,” encourages Dr. Fabrizio.
However, a healthcare leadership role that requires collaboration isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be forced. “If you have completed your undergrad masters and you haven’t been particularly skilled or successful at working with people or have had a hard time in relationships, I don’t think you’re going to flip a switch by completing a course and suddenly be effective. You can refine your skills if you’re already good and comfortable with collaboration. But if you’re not a people person, I don’t think you’re going to take classes and become a people person,” suggests Dr. Fabrizio.