15 Top Management Skills That Can Lead to C-Suite Status in Healthcare Organizations

It takes a particular set of management skills for business executives to qualify for C-level positions: leadership skills, people skills, and vision skills


People at the top level of the corporate hierarchy share one characteristic: leadership. Whether the position is called CEO, CNO, COO, or some other title, the ability to lead organizations and departments and direct them toward a common goal is the defining quality of a senior executive.

Encapsulated within that one word, leadership, is a range of critical traits and management skills, including creativity, strategic thinking, and people skills required to keep organizations running smoothly and profitably. Another vital characteristic of leaders in critical fields such as healthcare is compassion, which is linked with culturally competent leadership in a study published in the Journal of Transcultural Nursing.

The importance of business leaders to their companies and industries is evident in the impact of tech titans such as Apple founder Steve Jobs and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

  • Jobs fundamentally changed the way people interact with technology, making it not only simple but also beautiful. The ubiquity of devices such as Apple's iPhone and iPad have helped reduce our use of paper and other natural resources. Apple's innovations under Jobs have transformed how we work and how we spend our leisure time.
  • Bezos redefined the entire retail industry by growing Amazon into the third most valuable company in the U.S., behind only Apple and Microsoft. In addition to being the second-largest publicly-listed employer in the country, Amazon hired 427,000 employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing its total number of employees to 1.3 million.

Not many C-level executives will have the wide-ranging impact of a Jobs or Bezos, but in healthcare, drive and vision, combined with concern and compassion for the communities and individuals who benefit from the products and services they offer, executives make a large impact even if they operate on a smaller scale. Their unique combination of skills, attributes, and experience allows top officials at companies and organizations to lead with their head and their heart, and successfully direct their companies through tumultuous times and unforeseeable circumstances. Here are the 15 characteristics that qualify business executives for C-level positions in healthcare and allied industries.


What capabilities are needed to earn C-suite status?

The strategic responsibilities of C-level managers encompass areas as diverse as strategic planning; financial decision-making; task delegation; information gathering; collaboration; and employee management, including hiring and firing.


Typical career tracks for C-level positions               

Among the most common C-level positions are chief executive officer (CEO), chief operating officer (COO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO), and chief marketing officer (CMO). Some leaders may have industry-specific titles, such as chief nursing officer (CNO) and chief medical officer (CMO) in the healthcare industry. While there are many paths to leadership — especially in healthcare — the career track for these and other C-level positions typically begins in a specific area of management, such as finance, technology, marketing, sales, or operations, or with clinical experience. After gaining expertise in this vertical aspect of the company, C-level candidates broaden their skills and experience to improve their qualifications for top positions.

The process of preparing to become a C-level executive begins with education and extends well into your career. It’s helpful to reach the following milestones and build the following habits:

  1. Earn a postgraduate degree in business or in a field related to your industry. For example, if you’re hoping to earn a C-level position in healthcare, a healthcare concentration of a master's degree in business administration or global healthcare management would teach the skills that employers in the field are seeking.
  2. Gain work experience to build on your industry expertise and progress from managing small work groups to overseeing larger groups and departments. By empathizing with front line workers whose experiences you’ve shared, you’re better able to demonstrate reliability, integrity, and decision-making skills.
  3. Track your accomplishments as you discuss your career goals with your managers and set goals and benchmarks for the future. Provide as much hard data as possible to indicate your performance and your value to the company.
  4. Broaden your professional profile by participating in industry-related activities outside your job duties, such as writing guest blog posts, contributing to conference presentations, and promoting your industry and management expertise in articles and publications on third-party sites.

Incorporating the skills with your personality and leadership style             

Leaders in all fields need to be genuine and sincere, and that means staying true to their personalities and management styles. All leaders will have varying amounts of the qualities that good leaders require, which can include empathy, humility, resilience, emotional intelligence, accountability, commitment, and passion.

Business leaders need to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their personalities, so they can adjust how they think, act, and socialize to enhance their ability to motivate and inspire their employees. Four common personality types of leaders identified by researchers such as Douglas M. McGregor are autocratic, democratic, participative, and laissez-faire:

  • Autocratic leaders tend to exclude employees who report to them from participating in decision-making, denying the employees an opportunity to grow into leaders themselves.
  • Democratic leaders seek input from employees who report to them when making decisions, engendering improved employee morale.
  • Participative leaders involve employees who report to them in decision-making but retain ultimate authority over them; this engages the employees and helps them develop their management and leadership skills.
  • Laissez-faire leaders give employees who report to them decision-making authority, which is effective in professional fields such as architecture and engineering where employees are eminently qualified for their positions.

Sharpening old skills and learning new ones as your career progresses

Today's business climate is considerably different from ten or twenty years ago, in technology as well as in organizational structures, markets, and industries. Healthcare is no different, with the industry changing at a pace never before seen. It follows that the world of business over the next several decades will likewise be reinvented in important ways. To stay abreast of the developments that will impact their organizations in the future, business leaders need to bolster their management skills and leadership styles to ensure the effectiveness of their decision-making and strategic planning.

Rather than seeing change as a threat, effective C-level executives embrace the opportunities that change presents to their organizations and their employees. The effort to learn about the technical, industrial, and market forces that will shape the future of business endures throughout your career as a leader. Similarly, you will need to tweak the soft skills you apply as part of your leadership style to motivate the next generation of workers.Infographic_1


Leadership skills necessary for C-level executive success

Few people are born with the full gamut of leadership skills required to manage a business. To qualify for C-level executive positions, you have to identify and sharpen your leadership strengths while simultaneously working to develop the leadership skills that you aren't as strong in. What follows are five leadership skills that improve a manager’s ability to direct, inspire, and motivate a large group of workers or an entire organization toward common goals.

1. Self-confidence              

In business settings and elsewhere, confidence can be contagious. When C-level executives exhibit self-confidence, it sends a tacit message to employees who report to them that they can be confident about their company's ability to respond to challenges and achieve goals. Self-confidence is often shown by being a follower and letting others in the organization take the lead in their areas of expertise. This was crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, where clinical leaders stepped in to guide most of the decision-making in healthcare organizations.

However, overconfidence can have a negative effect when it results in a lack of trust, causes damage to relationships, or is perceived as arrogance. The textbook example of C-level overconfidence is the Enron debacle, which destroyed lives and nearly shut down an entire industry.

2. Empathy

The primary characteristic of an empathetic leader is the ability to make people feel welcome and protected. You accomplish this by building trust with the people who work for you, by being approachable, and by being flexible.

The ability to understand and be sensitive to the feelings of others has taken on new importance among top business executives as companies realize the critical need to provide supportive workplaces where everyone feels safe and able to contribute. This is especially true in industries such as healthcare, where workers were placed under unprecedented stress during the pandemic, and many came to fear for their own safety. While many frontline healthcare fields were inundated, others, such as for elective procedures, were paused, which furloughed employees.

Companies' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have provided them with many opportunities to demonstrate empathetic leadership. For example, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff proposed an eight-point plan for dealing with the pandemic that recommended that other CEOs wait at least 90 days before initiating any layoffs. Conversely, Cirque du Soleil’s leaders showed a lack of empathy when they used a video to lay off 95% of their workforce at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown.

3. Emotional intelligence          

Emotional intelligence in management has also gained greater importance in response to fundamental changes in the modern workforce and in business processes. Emotional intelligence helps C-level executives establish and nurture relationships with peers, staff, and customers. This aspect is especially important for managers in fields with time-sensitive client or employee needs; for instance in healthcare facilities, there is an increased focus on patient outcomes and the patient experience that necessitates new approaches to understanding and motivating employees.

Developing effective emotional intelligence in management begins by promoting interpersonal skills and communication throughout the organization. The following are five components of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness entails recognizing and understanding your emotions and how they affect others.
  • Self-regulation involves thinking before acting and withholding judgment.
  • Social awareness is understanding the emotions of people around you.
  • Social regulation allows you to influence the emotions of others when appropriate to do so.
  • Motivation demonstrates the passion you have for your work beyond monetary or career gain.

4. Self-regulation and intrapersonal communication           

Self-regulation involves much more than controlling responses to emotional situations. The ability to be truly self-aware requires delving into your internal attitudes and inner thoughts, also known as intrapersonal communication. While they may seem to be opposites, interpersonal communication and intrapersonal communication are two sides of the same coin:

  • Connecting with others on a personal level requires being fully aware of your own motivation and emotions.
  • To effectively collaborate with and influence others, you have to establish trust, which is possible only if you communicate your emotions honestly with others.
  • Intrapersonal skills include resilience, resourcefulness, creativity, analytical thinking, and vision. This trait is particularly valuable in the healthcare industry as a way to combat the increasing prevalence of burnout among healthcare professionals.

5. Delegation

Simply knowing that you can’t do it all yourself doesn't lead to effective delegation. The key is knowing who to delegate to, what to delegate, and how to create a delegation process.

  • Employees benefit by having the opportunity to gain new skills, but only if the task being delegated to them is within their capabilities in terms of knowledge and time commitment.
  • Managers need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, so they can properly delegate tasks that others are more capable of performing.
  • As with many other processes, delegation works best when procedures are in place to ensure that tasks and deadlines are clearly explained and that other expectations are communicated.

Resources on leadership skills for C-level executives              

People skills that C-level managers need

1. Interpersonal communication

Interpersonal communication is the glue that keeps organizations running smoothly. Two important aspects of interpersonal communication that are often downplayed are listening skills and a positive attitude. Both of these skills let the people you're communicating with know that you care about what they have to say and that you’re ready and willing to let them contribute.

The prototypical example of a leader with strong interpersonal skills is Winston Churchill, who was noted for his ability to motivate people in the direst of circumstances using only short phrases, such as "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."

2. People management

The public perception is that C-level executives are only concerned with long-range strategic planning and interacting with people at the highest levels of their organizations and industries. In reality, people management becomes more important the higher up the organization chart you rise, because so much more is at stake. Leaders are directly responsible for motivating employees and boosting morale and productivity by knowing what makes their workers tick.

The importance of people management at the executive level is shown in the work of former Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who valued people who were not only intelligent but also had experienced both achievements and failures. Schmidt directly addressed the company’s bias against hiring female candidates, and he adeptly resolved conflicts among Google’s executive team.

3. Collaboration

Many managers erroneously consider themselves skilled collaborators. They may always see themselves as leaders in a collaboration, rather than choosing to be followers when doing so is more effective. Being a good collaborator requires coordinating and sharing resources with other team members, focusing on the big picture rather than the details, and establishing alliances with potential and actual competitors in the organization.

The role of C-level executives in collaborative efforts is primarily to create an environment that promotes others' joint efforts. Top managers encourage curiosity, listening, information sharing, and give-and-take when discussing ideas. They help define roles within the group and establish a timeline for achieving the team’s goals. They also serve as arbitrators of conflict and agents of compromise.

4. Conflict management

Effective corporate leaders are noted for directly addressing conflict when it arises rather than shunting it to the side where it can fester and become a bigger problem. They also understand that conflict can spark innovation. Creating an environment where conflict can be beneficial begins by building trust within the team, so people are confident they can express opposing viewpoints.

Executives can encourage healthy conflict in their teams by:

  • Questioning assumptions and being provocative while remaining respectful
  • Encouraging team members who may be shy about expressing opinions to speak up
  • Letting everyone else state their opinions before sharing their own

5. Negotiation

Negotiation has many useful applications for C-level executives, from determining their own salaries and benefits to hammering out agreements with customers and business partners. When 11 top business leaders were asked the key to successful negotiations, they identified 11 techniques for effective negotiations:

  • Let the other party do the talking, so you can discover the primary motivations.
  • Be willing and able to compromise.
  • Be clear about what you want but prepared to give in on nonessential items.
  • Establish common ground and always look for the path to a solution.
  • Ensure that the other party gains something from the negotiation.
  • Focus on the core emotions that will accompany the negotiation’s outcome.
  • Maintain an even, nonthreatening tone to put the other party at ease.
  • Be patient and keep your eye on the big picture.
  • Visualize multiple potentially rewarding outcomes to the negotiation.
  • Don't fixate on price because the best outcome may require short-term sacrifice.
  • Be direct and set a time frame for closing the negotiation as early in the process as possible.

Resources on people skills for C-level executives         

Vision skills that C-level managers must possess

C-level executives play an important public-facing role in articulating an organization's beliefs, ethics, and ideals to their customers, business partners, and communities. This is in addition to their duty to communicate the company's strategic plans and promote its long-term vision to everyone in the organization. The need to communicate a shared vision for the company takes on new importance as industries such as healthcare, retail, and hospitality struggle to regain their footing in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic

What follows are five skills to help top executives propel companies toward their goals on a daily basis and well into the future.

1. Focus

One of the greatest challenges C-level executives face is keeping a large organization with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees aimed toward their shared goals despite the many distractions they face in their work. In effect, the company's leaders are sharing their dream of what the company will be while acknowledging the challenges it faces today and may encounter in the future.

An example of a company built on a mission to help the environment was the former ReCellular, which refurbished, repaired, and resold cellphones and other electronics. In addition to keeping millions of pounds of electronic waste out of landfills, the company donated a portion of its profits from recycling to local charities. The company’s commitment to the environment motivated many of its employees to join the firm.

2. Motivation              

After you've hired top talent, the challenge becomes convincing them to stay with the company. Motivating employees requires a concerted effort on the part of leaders to challenge them and provide them with real opportunities for career growth. The following are among the suggestions of top executives for motivating their workers:

  • Create special groups with members from multiple departments to focus on innovation and nontraditional projects.
  • Learn about the thinking behind a group’s approach to solving a work-related problem or improving how it operates. Consider how this idea can be applied to other processes.
  • Replace the traditional organization chart with a collaborative work space that encourages sharing ideas and takes a project-based approach to the work.
  • Give workers leeway to make mistakes, which is the best way to learn and also to make employees feel free to take calculated risks.
  • Continually challenge employees to push themselves beyond what they perceive as their limitations, so they have the opportunity to learn new skills and use old ones in new ways.

3. Agility      

The quicker an organization can respond effectively to changing conditions, the more likely it will be able to capitalize on the new markets. A survey of top executives by McKinsey identified the top three challenges facing business leaders: transforming their company's culture and ways of working (cited by 76% of executives), having a lack of leadership and talent (42%), and establishing a clear vision and implementation plan (34%).

Creating an agile organization has five components:

  • Strategy: Share a purpose and vision, capitalize on opportunities.
  • Structure: Clearly define roles in a flat organization, partnerships emphasize accountability. 
  • Process: Move fast and learn continuously, focus on performance and transparency.
  • People: Create egalitarian communities driven by entrepreneurship, encourage role mobility. 
  • Technology: Maintain a foundation that will accommodate the next generation of technologies. 

4. Innovative thinking

Few C-level executives reach their positions without a track record for innovation. The real challenge for top-level managers is promoting and nurturing innovative thinking throughout the organization. Most business innovations result from the need to solve a business problem, but the benefits of innovative thinking extend to identifying new roles, new tools, and new opportunities for the company.

As with many skills, innovation can be taught through exercises in prototyping, brainstorming, and mind mapping, as well as through programs that encourage managers and employees to think beyond the parameters of their current roles, activities, and responsibilities. Innovation is a mindset that influences every business decision by broadening the range of what may be possible.


5. Change management     

People's natural resistance to change runs contrary to the nature of business, which operates in a constant state of change. Overcoming this dichotomy requires that C-level executives not only identify and respond to new market opportunities or challenges faster than the competition, but also communicate to everyone in the organization the reason for the inevitable disruptions in their work lives.

During the pandemic, all aspects of healthcare and other service industries were impacted by the stresses on supply chains, logistics, and other key aspects of their operations, requiring swift change-management decisions from leaders. Healthcare executives received a first-hand lesson in coping with unexpected changes as they responded to the demands on their services by patients being treated for COVID-19. 

Making the business case for change entails keeping employees informed about what is changing, the reasons for the change, and how it will affect them individually and collectively. Most importantly, the company’s senior executives have to take ownership of managing change and be accountable for the results.

Resources on vision skills for C-level executives       

Indeed, "21 Soft Skills for Leadership Success" — This article outlines executive skills including compassion, mentoring, analytics, honesty, and adaptability.

Entrepreneur, "8 Soft Skills that Make You an Even Better Leader" — This resource describes time management, storytelling, self-motivation, persuasion, and creativity from the perspective of top-level executives.Infographic_2

How to develop C-level management skills

Aspiring C-level managers seeking to develop the skills to qualify for top corporate positions frequently start by choosing a postgraduate degree in business, finance, or management. Some may earn specialized degrees for industry-specific positions, such as computer science for a CIO and healthcare management for a CMO. Experience in the field is also critical; in fields such as healthcare, CEOs and other top managers come from a range of educational and professional backgrounds, including nursing, social work, and healthcare administration. 

Your business education experience will give you a chance to gain firsthand experience in the leadership areas that companies need. Throughout your career, you can take steps to boost your profile and qualifications for C-level positions.

Typical education paths for C-level executives       

Most careers in the C-suite begin with an MBA or other postgraduate degree in business, management, or finance. Alternatively, some executives with C-level positions hold a technical degree, such as a master’s degree in global healthcare management or information science. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the range of subjects that top executives study includes business administration, public administration, law, and liberal arts.

How to gain practical management experience        

The primary means of gaining the hands-on management experience that a C-level position requires is by managing work teams and departments, allowing you to hone your leadership and people management skills. Fortunately, you can learn independently most of the technical and soft skills that employers look for in their candidates for management positions.

For example, much of leadership involves establishing and nurturing professional relationships. When you can demonstrate constructive, positive, mutually beneficial interactions with your colleagues at any level, you'll gain a reputation for being a team player and consensus builder. The more you contribute to projects that others manage and show your commitment and focus on results, the more likely coworkers will seek you out when opportunities arise. 

Tips for gaining C-level manager qualifications   

You can also raise your profile as a management candidate through activities outside the workplace. One popular method is to volunteer as a manager for a nonprofit through an organization such as the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership. Similarly, the Project Management Institute offers resources for managers looking to develop leadership skills by working with nonprofit organizations.

Another way to publicize your management chops is by publishing articles online or in business journals that address the challenges of modern management, whether specific to your chosen field or that apply generally. Take advantage of conferences and industry events by looking for opportunities to gain experience working with people and technology as well as to establish professional connections that can lead to opportunities down the road.

Envisioning a path to the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy

One characteristic nearly every C-level executive has in common is a career built on a solid educational foundation that offered the opportunity to acquire the leadership and people management skills to succeed in reaching and thriving in the C-suite. Once you’re there, the focus shifts to helping the organization achieve its goals while simultaneously supporting the career development of the people who make that success possible.

Infographic Sources