Leadership competencies in the health care industry


Organisations are experiencing changes and health care organisations are not left out-health reforms, changes in technology, government policy and consumers’ expectations are transforming relationships among actors and impacting on operations in critical ways in the industry. These staggering twists, added with a sagging economy, poor Research &Development budgets and lacklustre sales pipelines are issues today’s leader must grapple with.

The pharmaceutical industry represents a major sub-sector of the health care industry. In a study conducted by the Centre for Creative Leadership, about a thousand leaders were evaluated and out of the major sixteen leadership competencies, respondents say there are eight top critical leadership competencies important in the pharmaceutical market.

 The traditional 16 critical leadership competencies include:

  1. Strategic perspective – Understands the viewpoint of higher management and effectively analyses                         complex problems.
  2. Having a quick study – Quickly masters new technical and business knowledge.
  3. Decisiveness – Prefers quick and approximate actions in many management situations.
  4. Change management – Uses effective strategies to facilitate organisational change initiatives and                  to overcome resistance to change.
  5. Leading employees – Attracts, motivates and develops employees.
  6. Confronting problem employees – Acts decisively and with fairness when dealing with problem                         employees.
  7. Participative management – Involves others, listens and builds commitment.
  8. Building collaborative relationships – Builds productive working relationships with co-                 workers and external parties.
  9. Compassion and sensitivity – Shows genuine interest in others and sensitivity to employee                         needs.
  10. Putting people at ease -Displays warmth and a good sense of humour.
  11. Respect for differences – Values people of different backgrounds, cultures, or demographics.
  12. Taking initiative – Takes charge and capitalises on opportunities.
  13. Composure – Demonstrates self-control in difficult situations.
  14. Balance between personal and work life – Balances work priorities with personal life.
  15. Self-awareness – Has an accurate picture of strengths and weaknesses and is willing to             improve.
  16. Career management – Uses effective career- management tactics, including mentoring,             professional relationships and feedback channels.

Common leadership derailment factors

Across culture and times, there have been five common leadership derailment factors that have been found to be fairly consistent.

  1. Problems with interpersonal relationship – Ineffective at developing good working relationships with others.
  2. Difficulty building and leading a team – Exhibits problems when attempting to select, develop and motivate a team.
  3. Difficulty changing or adapting – Shows resistance to change and to learning and developing from mistakes.
  4. Failure to meet business objectives – Finds it difficult to follow up on promises and complete a job.
  5. Too narrow a functional orientation – Lacks the depth needed to manage outside of current function.
Effective leadership for optimum performance

Critical leadership requirements in the pharmaceutical sector

The following are the 8 critical leadership requirements essential to success in the pharmaceutical industry:

  1. Leaders must build collaborative relationships. People, they say, are more important than things. A leader should be able to establish a productive working relationship with co-workers and other external parties. He must ensure that his team builds cordiality while pursuing the common goal. The effective leader places value on the welfare of his team and sees their personal satisfaction as key to growing performance.
  2. Leaders must have a strategic perspective. According to the Forbes magazine, strategic leadership begins with understanding the complex relationships between an organisation and its environment. Today’s leader needs to be able to understand the organisation’s vision, the workings of top management officers and also be critical in dealing with issues. He must see beyond his nose and effectively harness informal relationships with top officers to effect some desired changes. He must anticipate and be prepared in his mind.
  3. Leaders must take initiative.It seems to be that the definition of a leader is one who takes initiative. He should take charge and must be alert to capitalise on opportunities.Harland Cleveland’s quote adds credence to the need for leaders to take prompt initiatives –”The leader must always lean forward on pushing the invisible.”
  4. Leaders must allow for participative management. The effective leader calls for meetings regularly in order to get others involved and to listen to them.This builds confidence in the team and enhances trust.
  5. Leaders must be able to manage change. Change management, most times, determines whether a pharmaceutical or any organisation stays afloat or sinks.They are expected to use effective strategies to facilitate organisational change.They must adapt, control and effect change.
  6. Leaders must lead their employees. An effective leader has a presence he has built over time from hardwork,discipline and professionalism.He or she attracts,motivates and develops employees.
  7. Leaders must be decisive. Today’s leader is expected to not hesitate in the face of situations but take quick and approximate actions in management matters.
  8. The effective leader must be a quick learner. He must develop strong listening skills to study new business and to acquire technical knowledge from team members and across competitors.

In light of these expected competencies, the study conducted by the CCL showed that leaders in the pharmaceutical industry struggle in some areas. The major derailment factors are as listed above in order of prevalence.

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Major Derailment Factors

Too narrow functional orientation

Failure to meet business objectives

Difficulty building a team

Difficulty changing or adapting

Problems with interpersonal relationships

Narrow functional orientation

The study showed that the greatest potential derailment factor for pharma executives is “having too narrow a functional orientation.” This is most noticeable when the leader has risen up the ranks through sales, research, or some other functional “silo.” This leader may struggle when asked to take on a more general leadership role.

Often times, there is organisational pressure to keep top functional performers focused on their areas of expertise and these top performers may themselves prefer to remain in their functional comfort zones. To fulfil the promise of a leader’s potential, it is critical to have developmental assignments that broaden experience.

Organisations can help leaders avoid this by offering and encouraging “zigzag” career paths that feature lateral plus vertical movement. Allowing future leaders move to different areas within the organisation can help them develop a broader management perspective and learn how to build relationships with different people in different ways.

There is need therefore for organisations to invest in leadership development.


Our focus on leadership development

Our experience at the Pharmanews Centre for Health Care Management Development also confirms these observations and has informed our focus on health care management development as a critical step in advancing the quality of health care service provision in Nigeria. Therefore, we have focused on the following critical areas for intervention:


  • Fostering of system understanding

Here, we seek to help leaders and emerging leaders understand the different aspects of the health care industry – global best practices, financing structures and quality management processes. We understand that good leadersmust understand the global, regional and national environment within which their organisations. This provides the depth required to be able to engage others in achieving the organisational objectives. A good macro-economic perspective would help leaders develop interventions that maximises the best of their resources within the limits of their environment.

  • Development of collaborative partnerships

Characteristics of a manager who is effective at building collaborative relationships include:

  • Ability to relate with all kinds of people
  • Ability to treat people fairly
  • Gains support and trust of peers, higher management and customers
  • Uses good timing when negotiating with others
  • Can settle problems internally and externally

We have found these skillset to constitute essential components of the clinical leadership framework. To achieve organisational renewal, today’s leader must be able to enhance collaborative relationships, hold regular meetings, and develop performance standards and feedback processes for managers. They should learn to assign responsibilities, applaud staffers and reward hard work.

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Business financing structures

Nigerian health financing system has been characterised by low government investment, extensive out-of-pocket payments, limited insurance coverage and low donor funding. Thus, achieving effective and successful healthcare financing system has been a major challenge in Nigeria.

Health care leaders need to understand the challenges, the National Health Insurance Scheme, global financing structures, the macroeconomic outlay of the Nigerian economies and the emerging opportunities. These are essential for both private, public and public–private organisations.

 Organisational development

In a Business Leader survey, four areas in particular where there are signiûcantopportunities for improvement in most organisations include: talent, culture, alignment, and engagement. These areas constitute our major areas of intervention.

  1. Talent – Leaders urgently need support in areas related to talent, including developing current and future leadership capacity, as well as attracting and retaining top talents.
  2. Culture – There is also an urgent need for support in effectively addressing organizational culture during organisational realignments, industry consolidations and the formation of private – public partnerships.
  3. Alignment – Another high priority area requiring more effective support is alignment. Successful ûrms must align and execute business strategies in ways that meet their ûnancial goals and are consistent with their core values. Moreover, strategies, people, systems and processes must be aligned organization-wide to enhance productivity and proûtability.
  4. Engagement – Finally, business executives and leaders need support to engage their workforce. An organisation can best achieve its business results when its workforce is engaged and committed to achieving its goals and objectives. An organisational leader must be able to clarify and communicate succinctly the purpose and mission of the organisation to inspire and engage the workforce.


Below is a summary of our services:

  • Scheduled and on-demand training at Pharmanews training facilities
  • On-site training at clients’ premises
  • Executive management training for health care administrators
  • Advanced care workshops (sponsored training for health institutions and professional groups)


  • Wirtenberg et al, (2007). The Future of Organisational Development: Enabling Sustainable Business Performance Through People. Organisational Development Journal, Special Edition: Best Global Practices in Internal OD, Summer 2007, Volume 25: Number 2.
  • Leslie et al, (2014). The Leadership Challenge in the Pharmaceutical Sector What Critical Capabilities are Missing in Leadership Talent and How Can they be Developed? Center for Creative Leadership.




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