Insightful practice administrators understand that a comprehensive succession plan starts with the realization that they will be “replaced” at some point (due to retirement or winning the lottery, they hope). For implementation of a meaningful succession plan, successful administrators ultimately will help identify and develop someone to fill their leadership role. Most practical and proactive administrators want to participate in the process of grooming a successor.

Characteristics of an Outstanding Practice Administrator

Where does a practice begin the process of discovering its next practice administrator? It should start with a firm understanding of what the practice needs in an administrator. Following is a set of core competencies that most successful and proven practice administrators possess. While the list may not meet all needs of every practice, administrators who have these attributes and abilities will be well-positioned to help practices survive or even thrive in trying economic times.

Strong leadership qualities. Excellent practice administrators must have the ability to manage a practice featuring daily demands and diverse personalities. They must earn the respect of the entire team and be the acknowledged “go to” person. They must be strong, diplomatic, and consistent in delivering necessary leadership and direction. Having an intimate understanding of how the workplace operates and insight into the unique practice “culture” is critical to earning and maintaining leader status.

Ability to execute and implement. Many practices have great ideas, insights, and strategies for success. However, with no one to direct and guide implementation of these plans, nothing gets done. Successful administrators can move a thought or idea through implementation to produce the intended result or outcome. Possessing the ability to concentrate on details while keeping the big picture in focus is essential.

Sound communication skills. Lack of crystal-clear communication in any business results in a dysfunctional team. Clear, consistent communication is key, whether it is a face-to-face verbal contact, an e-mail, or a formal written report. Sometimes forgotten or minimized is the need to be an effective listener, one who can respond appropriately to what is being said.

Outgoing people person. Active practice administrators interact with everyone on a regular basis. Strong interpersonal skills are a key to great management. Being a good listener and being fair, firm, and consistent with delegation, discipline, and development, reduces conflict and helps ensure a happy and functional work environment. A strong knowledge of human resources and compliance issues is important.

Strategic thinking. Every business needs direction. It is likely that well-rounded practice administrators will be influential members of a practice's think tank, where they will be able to bring a perspective distinct from ownership or staff. Possessing the ability to think strategically from an operational viewpoint is an invaluable asset to any forward-thinking practice and a role best filled by the practice administrator.

Problem-solving skills. Physicians and owners do not have the time to solve all of the daily problems that arise in a medical practice. Patient time is revenue- generating time. Having a resourceful problemsolver on the team reduces errors and saves valuable time. A practice administrator with the talent to turn problems into solutions and challenges into opportunities can have a substantial impact up and down a practice's organizational chart.

Integrity. Good judgment and truthfulness are a must in any management position. Over time, a practice will assume the style of its most impactful, handson leader, frequently the administrator. Therefore, it is important for administrators to instill a “can do” attitude built on trust, honesty, respect, and cooperation.

Medical practice finance knowledge. Although any successful medical practice will have adequate financial expertise on staff or available from outside sources, a practice administrator who has a keen understanding of a balance sheet and profit-and-loss statement is very beneficial to a practice. Having a trustworthy person keeping watch over the day-to-day financial status of a practice frees up the physicians and staff to focus on quality patient care.

Marketing acumen. New patients are the “lifeblood” of any medical practice, and helping to develop and manage patient-acquiring marketing strategies and initiatives is a key role for the practice administrator. Depending on the size of the practice, the administrator either will oversee the marketing team or be the marketing team. Either way, possessing knowledge of basic marketing tools and resources is important for any successful practice administrator.

Equipment and technology competence. Today's medical practices run on sophisticated equipment and computer technology. Having a person knowledgeable in this area will save time and money. Depending on practice size, the administrator will oversee an inhouse technology team or coordinate outside resources.

All Critical Positions

Succession planning should be comprehensive and contain the requisite details to fill all critical positions in a practice, including practice administrator. While the current administrator might not plan to leave soon, having a thoughtful, well-composed, current job description for a practice administrator that incorporates the core competencies above will serve a practice well when it has to fill that vital role.

Douglas Reid is a management consultant with Allergan Practice Consulting Group of Allergan, Inc.

Allan Walker is director of publication services for BSM Consulting, located at the Incline Village, NV office.