Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a veterinary practice management consultant, speaker and adviser. She is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary Management University and continues to work in a small animal practice. She has over 35 years of experience in the veterinary field and brings her in-the-trenches experience directly to readers.Read Articles Written by Sandy Walsh
A practice’s technical team typically is led by a veterinary nurse with strong clinical, interpersonal and communication skills. Veterinary hospitals benefit from having a head technician, but the role shouldn’t be filled based solely on seniority or out of desperation. While the job is often considered a management position, a manager and a leader are fundamentally different. The terms are used interchangeably sometimes, so think about them this way:
- You manage things but lead people.
- Employees report to managers but follow leaders.
- Management is predominantly skills-based. It’s about what you do.
- Leadership is more about how you do something.
Building a highly functional technical team requires both leadership and management skills. A leader who lacks management skills might develop and communicate the practice’s vision, but it might not materialize without management’s involvement. Managers who lack leadership qualities will get things done but might not move the practice in the intended direction or motivate the team to come together. The quality of the team will be reflected in the head technician’s ability to work with others. Here’s how to make it happen.
Schedule Your Time
One challenge for every head technician is finding the time to lead the team, manage everyone and work on the floor with patients and clients. This is a common frustration among veterinary nurses serving in leadership. The feeling is that no matter what task they focus on, something else is more important.
Although patients come first, making time for management and leadership obligations is critical to a head technician. The juggling act can create undue stress. To be efficient and not feel torn, establish a schedule that sets aside time for managing and leading, stick to it whenever possible, and put it on the staff schedule for all to see. This way, you can prioritize your workload, and the team will know what to expect of you.
Learn to Delegate
You can’t do everything, so learn to let go, even if you can do something faster and think you do it better. Remember, you have a well-trained team. Many tasks can and should be done by others. If your technicians are capable and willing to take on additional duties, empower them. This allows them to grow and you to focus on other priorities.
List everything you do or try to do throughout the day. Identify the tasks that eat up your time but could be done by someone else. The practice benefits when you delegate and involve the team in more day-to-day happenings. You will see higher levels of engagement and job satisfaction throughout the team, resulting in positive workplace culture and lower turnover.
It’s OK to say no, especially to tasks that can and should be delegated. The same goes for your schedule. You have a defined workweek like everyone else. Develop a system so that your technicians find appropriate coverage when they need time off or call out sick. It’s not your responsibility to fill in or work overtime.
Setting boundaries for after-hours communication is important as well. Although you need to be available in an emergency, communicate to the team what constitutes one that needs your involvement. Also, be mindful of your after-hours communication with the team. Everyone deserves a work-life balance.
Embrace Down Time
Take breaks throughout the day, just as the team does. Re-energizing is as essential for practice leaders as it is for the support team. When your scheduled shift is over, wrap things up and go home. Patient emergencies might require you to work overtime, but don’t make it the norm. Prioritize what needs to be completed by day’s end and let the rest wait until tomorrow. Time away from the practice is important as well. Don’t be the leader who covers everyone else’s vacations and never takes one. You’ve earned and deserve it.
Your Leadership Role
Once you have developed your team and provided all the required onboarding and training, you’ll spend most of your time on leadership — elevating and maintaining the team’s performance. Coaching, counseling and providing regular feedback through performance evaluations are essential duties. This part of the job often requires a knowledge of federal, state and local regulations, so work closely with the management and human resources teams to ensure your actions don’t put the practice at risk.
WHO SHOULD LEAD?
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, great leaders consistently have and exhibit these qualities:
- Sense of humor
- Positive attitude
- Ability to inspire
Hospital managers should look for those qualities when deciding to move a veterinary nurse into a leadership role. If the appointed person is set up for success, everyone wins. Remember that a practice without a strong leader has no vision, mission or direction. A practice without an effective manager is chaotic.