As any clinic or therapy team grows, the need for leaders within the organization grows as well. Some leadership skills can be learned over time, but some basics should be present in anyone considered for leadership in occupational therapy. Having outstanding leadership can make a difference in profitability, customer service, and staff retention.
Thankfully, many of these traits come naturally to many great occupational therapists (and physical and speech therapists). So, what leadership characteristics do we look for in our organization? Below is a list of the top 10 must-have leadership skills in occupational therapy.
1. Mentor & educate others.
Healthcare is a field that quickly grows and changes, making the need for mentorship especially important. Even if the individual is not the most experienced clinically within your organization, everyone has the knowledge to share. A natural leader within your organization will be willing to pass along the information they have whenever possible to help others on the team grow and learn.
2. Have integrity.
A good leader has a clear moral compass and knows both their values and the company’s values. They also make decisions with these values as a guide. They do what they say and say what they mean. They are trustworthy to both their co-workers and their patients. This helps develop healthy relationships with the team and the clients you serve.
3. Challenge yourself & try new things.
A leader knows the status quo but is also willing to think outside the box when the time is right. Leaders are flexible and ready to step outside their comfort zone with a new process, idea, or approach, whether the idea is theirs or something brought to them by someone on their team.
4. Have thick skin.
Often, when a leader makes a decision, some, or all the individuals they are leading are not happy with their decision. However, great leaders can stay the course despite public influence. They are confident in their choices and can handle constructive (and sometimes not so constructive) criticism with grace and professionalism.
5. Be loyal & trustworthy.
These seem obvious, but if you’ve seen someone in your clinic act disloyal or untrustworthy with anyone in your organization, they can do the same to you. These individuals may not be the best candidates for leadership within your organization.
6. Communicate well.
Leaders within your organization must communicate clearly, concisely, and effectively with you, your staff, and the patients you serve. Great leaders can match their communication style to their listeners’ needs and listen just as well as they articulate!
7. Never stop learning.
Whether they’ve been practicing for 1 year or 20 years, a natural leader recognizes that you never know it all in the ever-changing healthcare field. They demonstrate a hunger for knowledge and continue to develop the skills of their craft.
8. Be a decision-maker.
Good leaders make wise choices. This sentence simplifies a very complex idea. To do this, a leader must determine the best decision through the lens of the organization’s overall health, not their own comfort or personal preference. They must remain open to new ideas and eliminate their own personal bias. They also must make sure the timing of their decision is appropriate for their organization at that particular moment. It’s not as simple as it seems!
9. Manage your time well.
A good leader manages their time well to maximize organizational health and patient care. A good leader knows when to complete a task themselves and when to delegate to ensure the needs of the organization and the individuals on the team are met in a timely manner.
10. Be humble.
A true leader doesn’t think too highly of themselves. They demonstrate servant-minded leadership and are willing to do what is needed to get the job done even if it’s “not their job” or “beneath their pay grade.” They can work on a team and show their colleagues that they value them by giving them respect and appreciation and listening to their perspectives. They are the first to admit when they’ve made a mistake and can accept that they don’t have all the answers.
Just kidding. Finding an individual that demonstrates all of the above criteria is difficult, but it can be done. Once you find someone with these essential occupational therapy leadership skills, helping them grow into the leader your organization needs will be easier. Also, once you find them, don’t let them go; these exceptional individuals don’t come around that often!
Jenna Coe, OTR, MOT, BCP, C/NDT
Jenna is AOTA Board Certified in Pediatrics and is the owner and Director of Occupational Therapy at All Care Therapies of Georgetown.
Jenna grew up in Georgetown, Texas and graduated from Georgetown High School in 2005. Jenna attended Texas State University and then the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio where she received her Bachelor of Science in Health Care Sciences and Masters of Occupational Therapy in 2010. Jenna received her Neurodevelopmental Treatment (NDT) Certification in 2012 and her AOTA Board Certification in Pediatrics (BCP) in 2021. Jenna has experience in pediatrics, adults, and orthopedics in the clinical, hospital, skilled nursing facilities, and home health settings. She enjoys furthering her clinical skills, and has taken many continuing education courses in topics including, sensory feeding, wheelchair evaluation, neurodevelopmental treatment, upper extremity rehabilitation, visual processing skills, and handwriting and fine motor delays. Jenna is a member of The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), The Texas Occupational Therapy Association (TOTA), and The Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association (NDTA). She loves helping all individuals she works with become as independent as possible, and loves to help clients meet goals that are important to them.
In her free time, you’ll find Jenna spending time with her husband, 4 children, family and friends. She is actively involved in her church, loves photography, reading, and University of Texas football games!