Acquiring and developing healthcare leaders’ political skills: an interview study with healthcare leaders

Waring, Justin; Bishop, Simon; Clarke, Jenelle; Exworthy, Mark; Fulop, Naomi J; Hartley, Jean; Ramsay, Angus I G; Black, Georgia and Roe, Bridget (2022). Acquiring and developing healthcare leaders’ political skills: an interview study with healthcare leaders. BMJ Leader, 7(1)



Background Research suggests health and care leaders need to develop a distinct set of political skills in order to understand and manage the competing interests and agenda that characterise health and care services.

Aim To understand how healthcare leaders describe the acquisition and development of political skills with the aim of providing evidence for leadership development programme. Methods: A qualitative interview study was carried out between 2018 and 2019 with 66 health and care leaders located within the English National Health Service. Qualitative data were subject to interpretative analysis and coding, with themes related to pre-existing literature on the methods of leadership skill development.

Results The primary method of acquiring and developing political skill is through direct experience in leading and changing services. This is unstructured and incremental in nature with skill development increased through the accumulation of experience. Many participants described mentoring as an important source of political skill development, especially for reflecting on first-hand experiences, understanding the local environment and fine-tuning strategies. A number of participants describe formal learning opportunities as giving them permission to discuss political issues, and providing frameworks for conceptual understanding of organisational politics. Overall, no one approach appears to reflect the changing developmental needs of leaders.

Conclusions The study suggests that healthcare leaders’ development of political skills and behaviours might be supported through an integrative approach that takes into account the evolving learning needs and opportunities at different career stages in the form of a maturation framework.

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