How to Be a Leader, No Matter Your Role

image of medical professionals standing outside building

Each member of a team can exercise leadership, no matter their role in the team. We all bring expertise and talent in our job performance. We asked a few AARC members to share their insight into what it means to be a leader and how RTs can seek out opportunities. Here’s what they had to say.

What does it mean to be a leader?

“There are so many different definitions of a leader!” said Cheryl Hoerr, MBA, RRT, FAARC, Director of Respiratory Services at Phelps County Regional Medical Center in Rolla, MO. “I like to think of a leader as someone who has expertise in a specific field and has made a commitment to make things better.“

Hoerr continues to explain that a leader studies the situation to become an expert, all while inspiring others to engage in the change effort. She feels a leader acts as a mentor and allows others excel and experience success.

“A leader encourages improvement in others so that they can become the next generation of leaders,” Hoerr said.

For Dana Evans, MHA, RRT, RRT-NPS, Respiratory Care Director at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, “leadership is about influence.”

“You do not have to be a manager or director to be influential in your department,” Evans said. “Leaders are going somewhere and they have people willing to go with them.”

How can you be a leader?

“Leaders are easy to spot,” Hoerr said. “They tend to be the people that others turn to in a crisis situation. Leaders are always improving their skills and doing whatever is necessary to expand their level of expertise.”

Hoerr emphasizes that leaders develop strong interpersonal relationships, they earn the trust and respect of team members, they make change happen, they effectively collaborate with others, practice effective communication skills, and maintain focus on the projects at hand.

According to Evans, “Informal leaders are those that have earned the respect and trust of those they work with. Their opinions matter to their co-workers and have the ability to influence the opinions and actions of others. Informal leaders can have a substantial amount of power in any department.”

Evans listed examples of being an informal leader as someone willing to speak up when there is an issue, stand up for others and step up when work needs to be done, be a project champion, serve on committees, suggest improvements, serve as preceptors, and mentor those around them.

“Informal leaders are also good followers,” Evans said. “They know when a project has value to the department and will often adapt to change faster than those around them.”

How can you develop and strengthen your leadership skills?

“Leaders are always learning,” Hoerr said. “If you stop learning, you stagnate as a leader.”

Hoerr feels pursuing formal learning or earning an advanced degree or an additional credential is a great way to improve your knowledge and expertise. She also notes that learning happens whenever you step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

“Most of the growth I’ve experienced in my leadership career has happened when I’ve been offered an opportunity that I’m not sure I’m qualified for,” Hoerr said. “Despite being terrified about failing, I’ve gathered my courage and jumped into the fray. And most of the time I succeed and learn new skills in the process.”

Evans offered the following tips for strengthening your leadership skills:

  • Grow your influence
    • Maintain a high level of knowledge and expertise in the work that you do. Staying current on research and literature is a great way to start.
    • Watch your attitude. A positive attitude is one of the most important attributes of a leader. The ability to keep a positive outlook allows leaders to keep moving forward, even when the path is bumpy.
    • Build connections with those you work with. I would suggest doing this by treating others with kindness and respect, serving as a mentor or offering assistance when someone needs help. Listening to others opinions and ensuring that others know you value them are also important when developing connections.
  • Talk with your department leader
    • Solicit their feedback on your performance and ask them how you can grow as a leader in the department.
    • Make it known that you want to develop as a leader – managers are not mind readers, they may not know that you would like to do this.
    • Volunteer to serve on committees, projects, and initiatives.
  • Find a professional mentor-someone who is willing to help your growth and is available to offer suggestions for improvement
  • Formal education and CRCE
    • Many college and university offer coursework in management and leadership.
    • AARC University Leadership Institute offers an excellent opportunity for therapists to grow their knowledge, learning from experts in RT leadership.

Looking for more ways to build your leadership skills?

Check out the AARC Leadership Institute, a series of courses designed to provide real-world education for respiratory therapists who wish to expand their breadth and depth of knowledge beyond the clinical realm. The Leadership Institute was designed and developed by content experts in respiratory care education, management, and research. The information and activities in the Leadership Institute provide a foundation for future growth in your career.

AARC Leadership Institute