Skills Every Health Administrator Should Have

Containing costs and directing day-to-day operations of medical facilities are crucial responsibilities for health administrators.  But setting the tone for the future of healthcare means administrators also need legal skills, business acumen, technical expertise, and a range of problem-solving capabilities.

Health administrators can include chief medical officers, healthcare executives, and health services managers, all of whom are expected to follow leadership and business competencies for the daily operations of their facilities. The Healthcare Leadership Alliance (HLA) and the National Center for Healthcare Leadership (NCHL), among other organizations, have established core competencies for administrators, including effective communication, professionalism, and business skills. Designed to serve as professional guidelines for administrators, they focus on education with concentrations in adaptability, change leadership, self-development, and talent development.

Most administrators hold master’s degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Programs such as Maryville University’s online Master of Health Administration include management, healthcare operations, medical law, health technology, and business-related coursework to prepare business leaders and medical professionals for challenging positions in health administration.

The ultimate goal for health administrators is to be able to manage fast-moving changes while accommodating such factors as an aging population, staffing shortages, and changes to the nation’s health insurance system.

Core skills that medical professionals find important for the success of health administrators include:

1. Communication and Relationship Management Abilities
Good communication is essential for all relationships, and particularly so for health administrators. Administrators interact with groups of people every day, including medical staff, patients, fellow administrators, community leaders, and vendors. Success means being able to speak, write, and listen to articulate information and solve problems.

Several factors play a role in communication and relationships, according to the HLA, including understanding public relations and facilitating dispute resolutions. Developing integrity and trust has been found to be a primary competency for developing good communication and relationships.

“Essential levels of trust can be achieved and sustained through the embrace and consistent expression of professionalism, attitudes, and behaviors,” Dr. Michael D. Brennan said in the Journal of Translational Medicine. “These include integrity, accountability, motivation, altruism, empathy, and the pursuit of excellence through lifelong learning.”

2. Leadership Skills
Good leadership is more about decision-making, strategic planning, and team building than giving orders. Successful leaders can effectively motivate staff to institute change. Plus, no matter what the business, good leaders understand the importance of recognizing individual needs and priorities while promoting teamwork. Leadership includes:

Healthcare-specific leadership requires a focus on patient-centered care and leading high-demand professionals in a competitive marketplace, according to the NCHL. The organization said healthcare leadership should focus on three domains – transformation (stimulating a change process), execution (translating vision to performance), and people (both staff and patients).

“The health system is extraordinarily complex and more than other sectors requires building consensus among independent constituencies, many of whom have broad social and political recognition,” NCHL officials said. “Leaders who have an impact must exercise influence, consensus and coalition-building competencies at higher levels than their counterparts in other sectors.”

3. Technical Proficiencies
Today’s quick-changing healthcare environment requires more than a general understanding of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), electronic health records (EHRs), and computerized physician order entry (CPOE). The Internet of Things (IoT) now affects the way medical facilities process everything from patient medical records to equipment orders. Some facilities have invested in smart beds with sensors that can detect the presence of a patient. Home health agencies can monitor patient vital signs via wireless signals.

Large medical facilities are frequently behind in technology advancements, yet healthcare leaders are increasingly expected to deliver innovations in patient care. Leaders who can use 3D printing, internet-connected services and other improvements to modernize healthcare delivery systems will be better able to bring their facilities into the 21st century, researchers said.

4. Business Acumen
Healthcare is a billion-dollar industry that incorporates economics, marketing, and law.

The business side of the field includes creating what Russell Branzell, CEO of the Fort Collins, CO-based Colorado Health Medical Group, called a “vision and strategy” for the medical provider. Duties include basic health administration (government regulations and patient privacy), financials (delivering quality healthcare within a budget), and clinical quality improvements (improving daily operations and meeting business goals).

5. Education
Being responsible for business and policy decisions at a medical facility requires an advanced level of education. A bachelor’s degree only opens doors at an entry level. A master's degree can be required for a C-suite office. Master’s degree students who start out with a strong foundation in healthcare and business must work their way up the corporate ladder. Online MHA programs such as the one at Maryville University include industry-specific curricula with a focus on healthcare regulations and policy.


Leadership skills
Degree requirements
Journal of Translational Medicine
Technical skills
Business acumen