Good leaders know their areas of expertise; great leaders know how to articulate their knowledge and inspire others to take action towards a collective goal.
As M.D. Arnold once said, "A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.”
While some of the most common obstacles within the sterile processing department (SPD) include insufficient training, lack of technology support, inefficient process structure, and inadequate space or equipment—the greatest offender is ineffective leadership. Without effective sterile processing leadership, the SPD cannot achieve its full potential or provide the highest standard of patient care. The wrong sterile processing leader affects everything: time, money, frustration, and the patient experience. Learn what seven qualities to look for in a high performing SPD leader.
7 Qualities of Effective Sterile Processing Leadership
Sterile processing leaders must not only inspire and motivate their team but also gain their trust and respect while overseeing critical safety requirements. As such, it takes a very specific type of person to lead the SPD and do it well. SPD also plays a critical role in the success of several other revenue-generating departments, so it’s imperative to have the right SPD leader in place. Below are seven qualities to look for in an effective sterile processing leader.
1. Impeccable knowledge of regulatory standards and processes.
SPD leaders must be subject matter experts and remain well informed on the latest work processes in accordance with AAMI and AORN standards.
2. Experts in workflow and instrument knowledge.
First hand-experience managing workflow and the ability to speak to the various manufacturer instructions of the products and equipment used is paramount. In addition, SPD leaders must be able to spot technician mistakes quickly, address them and implement controls for the future.
3. Comfortable with technology.
From detailed inventory knowledge to floor layout design, strong SPD leaders are comfortable with data and rely on it to identify shortcomings and create solutions to improve systems and processes.
4. High emotional intelligence to build strong relationships.
From navigating complex vendor relationships to communicating with CNOs, COOs and OR Directors, SPD leaders must be confident, articulate, and empathetic in order to develop rapport and command respect. An effective SPD leader understands how important cultivating relationships is to their overall success and the success of the organization.
5. Strategic foresight.
An effective SPD leader keeps their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the healthcare industry. If a new law or regulatory update is going to impact the perioperative department, you can bet it will also impact the SPD. An SPD leader is aware of what’s coming down the pike and the potential implications.
6. Extreme accuracy under pressure.
Infections jeopardize patient safety and have a domino effect on the hospital. There is very little room for error. In addition, failure to meet standards during a survey can result in a follow-up action plan, possibly losing certification, and prompt a visit from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). From regular review of the hospital’s transport and storage of sterile instrumentation to providing hospital-wide training on pre-cleaning and transport, an SPD leader must be thorough and relentless in their pursuit of the perfect survey.
7. Proven experience with conflict resolution.
SPD leaders deal with people just as much as they deal with processes. Not only should an SPD leader be able to build strong relationships, but they must also effectively manage conflict in the workplace. At this point in their career, an SPD leader has demonstrated success with managing conflict and can articulate their management style.
Successful sterile processing leaders must also be intentional about reaching out to other department leaders and be willing to collaborate on mutually beneficial projects. Technical know-how will only take the SPD so far. A strong sterile processing leader is self-aware and understands the importance of cultivating relationships within the SPD and outside the department to achieve maximum results. The most effective sterile processing leader knows their job, their colleagues, and how to work within the interconnected healthcare ecosystem.
Beyond Reducing Loss & Improving Processing of Surgical Instruments
Finding the right leadership for the SPD can be tricky. Sullivan has found that many leaders in SPD are exceptional technicians, but they are not great leaders. If your OR is experiencing instrument loss, inefficient workflow, or increased ‘wet loads’, our team of sterile processing experts can help.
Contact us today to learn how we can reduce waste and increase the operational performance of your SPD and all perioperative services.
Randy Heiser is the President of Sullivan Healthcare Consulting. Randy has been a hospital consultant since 1983 and has specialized in perioperative consulting since 1992. He has directed more than 500 surgery department operational improvement studies (and participated in an additional 350) in programs ranging from small community hospitals and freestanding surgery centers to some of the largest university hospitals in the U.S. He was instrumental in the design, development and implementation of the Surgery Benchmark Program that has been used by more than 280 hospitals. He has also participated in the design of several proprietary surgery scheduling information systems currently available in North America.