Effective Skills For Physician Executives

Communication is a must for physicians and healthcare leaders.In matters of health and wellness, physicians are considered authorities. However, the skills healthcare providers use to guide their patients to optimal health do not necessarily translate to leadership expertise in other areas. Those who want to transition into a physician executive leadership position must polish their talents in other areas, and organizations seeking leaders should look for more than medical competence. Grant Cooper Managing Partner Ronald J. Chod, M.D., MBA, suggested that physicians considering an administrative career first enroll in courses at the American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL). To gain the best advantage, physicians also should work toward earning a Master of Business Administration or a Master of Health Administration degree. “Experience is more important than education, but those who are seeking education simultaneous to gaining administrative experience will be the most attractive candidates to hiring entities,” Dr. Chod said.

Successful physician leadership development also requires a balance between core medical knowledge and management skills.  Achieving this balance means a physician executive will be an authority in a variety of areas. For a physician seeking to evolve into an executive position or take on a leadership role in their current organization, the following physician executive skills are vital.


Undoubtedly, one of the most important healthcare leadership skills is communication. Often, early leadership roles for physicians are positions of influence and change management. Articulating an organization’s goals and mission effectively enables leaders to engage employees. “Excellent communication skills and relating to other physicians and executives is absolutely mandatory,” Dr. Chod highlighted. This can be easier said than done, as it means executives must be able to get their messages across to clinical as well as nonclinical audiences. Strong communication skills that can cross this divide will foster a culture of respect and trust that is key to success.


No matter the size, healthcare organizations needs all members to work together to achieve shared goals. Leadership plays a crucial role in creating that cooperation. Physician executives must have a talent and a strong desire to collaborate with others and encourage synergy throughout the institution. Far from simply ensuring everyone is on the same page, this skill entails building strong, long-lasting relationships. Leaders also are obligated to model preferred behavior, best practices, and exemplify the organization’s values.

Financial Acumen

Finances are one of many important executive skills.Building a strong healthcare organization involves much more than patient care. “A significant theoretical understanding of profit and loss and operational improvements and how that can impact is increasingly important,” Dr. Chod stated. Physician executives who have spent a period of time in a for-profit organization often are able to illustrate the financial impact of changes to the healthcare system that is well-received in all settings. “Absent that experience, a deep understanding of its importance and opportunities to add value will be very important to a physician executive’s success in his or her career,” Dr. Chod outlined.

Physician Leaders also need to have the necessary skills to manage the business aspects of their operations. This means those seeking to move into a physician executive position should have core competencies in areas such as healthcare finance, law, and negotiating with insurance providers. In general, physicians with practice management experience have an advantage. However, garnering exposure to value-based financial models, such as Accountable Care Organizations, Clinically Integrated Networks, or P4P approaches are important as well.


The healthcare sector continues to undergo significant change, outpacing many other industries. It is imperative for anyone hoping to attain a physician executive position to be flexible in both his or her way of thinking and acting. Being able to adapt to rapidly evolving conditions in the industry is a crucial skill. This is important not only for guiding the organization through changes, but also for maintaining the trust of stakeholders. A leader who displays fixed thinking in the face of change risks losing employee engagement and organizational trust. Along with reacting to changes in the healthcare environment, successful leaders need to have an entrepreneurial mindset. Innovative thinking can provide an organization with a foundation for growth and major advances.

Physicians and leaders who wants to advance into an executive position in healthcare have an obligation to develop skills outside of core medical knowledge. There are numerous resources available to guide leaders, including professional organizations such as the American Association for Physician Leadership, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and the Medical Group Management Association. With guidance and training, physicians can gain and hone the talents they need to excel as an executive leader.

About Dr. Chod

Dr. Ronald J. Chod, M.D., MBA, Managing PartnerDr. Ronald J. Chod, M.D., MBA, Managing Partner:  Dr. Ron Chod has more than 25 years of experience in clinical practice, academic leadership, and integrated delivery system administration. Before joining Grant Cooper, Ron served in leadership roles as the Vice President for Clinical Affairs at BJC Healthcare, and then as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He also held an administrative appointment as the Executive Director of the Faculty Practice Plan, and an academic appointment as Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Ron has extensive firsthand knowledge of the business and leadership issues facing healthcare institutions and has access to academic and hospital leaders throughout the nation.

About Grant Cooper

Grant Cooper is a retained executive search firm working principally in healthcare to identify and recruit superior executive talent for our clients. Boutique in size, but not in scope, Grant Cooper’s collective partnership applies more than a century of hard-won executive search expertise to its search engagements.