In-demand qualifications for health system CEOs

The role of health system CEO comes with a slightly different job description than it once did. 

The job of health system CEO was already evolving pre-pandemic. In many ways, the global health emergency only accelerated the pressures and risks of the job. Non-healthcare corporations moving into the industry and the ever-growing capabilities of generative AI make for two more headwinds, as do workforce shortages and the changing expectations among employees when it comes to work in America. 

As healthcare and its provider organizations grow more complex, is the same true of the skills, traits and qualifications needed for the decision-makers at the top of them? Not necessarily. Rather, it's a reprioritization of qualifications, in which some that may have once been treated as less imperative or critical climb the charts to become necessities. 

"Leaders today need to be great at several different things," Scott Becker, publisher of Becker's Healthcare, says. "They need to be able to build and retain a great leadership team, they generally need to have a fairly clear vision of what the organization needs to excel at, they need to be good communicators and they need to be generally, reasonably likable."

"Lou Shapiro, legendary CEO of Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, shared some of these concepts with me as follows: An organization must have a clear purpose and a great culture, and leader must be able to love what they do, learn constantly, listen well and be able to laugh at themself."  

Many of the largest and most prominent health systems in the country saw CEO turnover over the past two years. With that, health systems lost decades of collective industry and institutional knowledge. Their tenure spanned across numerous milestones and headwinds, including input and compliance with the Affordable Care Act, the move from paper to digital records, and major mergers and labor strikes. The retiring CEOs had been top decision-makers as their organizations met the demands of COVID-19 and its consequences. They set the tone and had final say in how forcefully their institutions condemned racism and what actions they took to address health inequities. 

Incomers may not precisely replicate the skill makeup of their predecessors, but instead flex and illustrate different and needed strengths. To hear what those are from leaders and professionals on the ground today, Becker's turned to readers, asking them to share skills and strengths that are critical for health system CEOs today that were not traditional qualifications in years past. 

Below are a sample of responses, edited for clarity and brevity. 

  • While it has always been important, coaching talent will be exponentially more important in the future. The ability to identify talent, grow talent, engage talent, and bring talent together is the bedrock of success. Leaders who can coach and inspire diverse teams will be the winners. — William Kenley, CEO, AnMed Health (Anderson, S.C.)
  • Experience outside of healthcare — as healthcare delivery models shift and evolve, future healthcare leaders that have experience in other sectors like retail, hospitality and systems engineering will be critical to develop and maintain a comprehensive C-suite point-of-view for assessing strategic growth and addressing enterprise risk. — Jennifer McCafferty-Fernandez, Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff, Nicklaus Children's Health System (Miami)
  • Knowledge and understanding of their state's political and legislative process and power structure. — Gale Adcock, MSN, North Carolina Senator and Adjunct Assistant Professor at UNC School of Nursing (Charlotte, N.C.)
  • Knowledge of bedside clinician workflow and downstream impact from upstream decisions. There are many barriers created by leadership decisions that make bedside patient care unnecessarily difficult. — Renee' Yarbrough-Yale, DNP, APRN, Inpatient Diabetes Coordinator at JPS Health Network (Fort Worth, Texas)
  • An ability to analyze longer term future probabilities and assess potential innovative solutions. For example, the population of working age persons is declining in the U.S. This is likely to affect the numbers of persons preparing for and entering various healthcare professions. At the same time, the number of older adults is increasing, increasing the need for healthcare. What are potential solutions to address the need-availability gap? — Jacqueline Dunbar-Jacob, PhD, Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Nursing with University of Pittsburgh
  • Although having the ability to relate with patients and their families regarding their interest in making philanthropic gifts in appreciation for their care was somewhat understood in years past, today's next health system leaders would be well served to understand the ROI and potential healing value that philanthropy can provide. Patients will be the true beneficiaries of this important skill by system leaders. — Jim Lyddy, Former Development Chair of Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.)
  • Experience outside of healthcare. Be very wary of anyone who's been in the same system for too long. — Mike Mulry, Workforce Development Coordinator, Essentia Health (Duluth, Minn.)
  • I believe that courageous leadership, along with visibility and empathy woven in, are essential in our day-to-day work. — Erin Yale, Vice President, Children's Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars