SSM program cultivates leadership skills in frontline staff

August 1, 2012

Like a lot of people, Davina Dell-Steinbeck didn't relish having difficult conversations with colleagues, especially when it came to holding them accountable in their jobs. But after an intensive program that teaches leadership skills, Dell-Steinbeck feels as if she can now have those conversations in a more productive way.

"I am much more confident about how to engage colleagues so that we collectively can think through certain processes and make changes that improve patient care," explained Dell-Steinbeck, 32. She is a pharmacist at SSM St. Mary's Health Center in Richmond Heights, Mo. St. Mary's is one of seven hospitals and other facilities that make up SSM Health Care-St. Louis, which began its Emerging Leaders program in 2010.

Each SSM campus may select up to 10 employees to go through the program, which typically runs from July to the following March. Employees can either nominate themselves or be nominated by a colleague. In order to be considered, an employee must have worked at SSM for at least six months, have basic computer skills and be able to attend approximately 30 hours of development meetings.

Russ Scalpone, who helps to oversee Emerging Leaders, explained that while SSM has long worked to further leadership development in its managers and directors, it wanted to extend that training opportunity to the frontline staff. Scalpone quoted Sr. Mary Jean Ryan, FSM, chair of parent SSM Health Care, as having said, "No matter your title or job at SSM, everyone should be a leader."

"It just makes sense that our future leaders will emerge from our current staff," Scalpone said. "We formed a team to develop a program that would imbue our frontline staff with the tools to make them the best leaders possible."

The Emerging Leaders program includes educational training, work on practicum skills and mentoring. Participants also develop and manage a project from start to finish that provides practical leadership experience.

Jeannie Weider was promoted after she had been accepted to the Emerging Leaders program. Today, as a supervisor for patient access services at SSM St. Clare Health Center in Fenton, Mo., she oversees 35 employees. She said she uses the leadership skills she learned in the program every day. She found the mentoring particularly valuable. "Some people are resistant to change, yet we are working in an environment where we need to expect change daily," said Weider, 56. "The mentors were really helpful in giving us ways to alter the negative mind-set of some of the people we work with and help them to see the benefits of making changes."

She added that the mentors offered strategies to help her set goals and prioritize her work as well as how to use various tools at her disposal to find the information she needs to get certain jobs done most efficiently.

One of Weider's mentors was Kelly Pearce, 33, who recently was promoted to vice president of operations at St. Clare from his former job as administrative director of nursing operations. He has been involved as a mentor/coach since the inception of the Emerging Leaders program. He finds two components of the program most beneficial. "One is the contact with other mentor/coaches. Each of us has had successes and failures. We've learned that there is more than one way to approach a difficult problem, more than one way to lead. Being able to share our experiences as leaders is invaluable," Pearce said.

"The other is being able to modify presentations to address what is truly going on in departments. Our Emerging Leaders bring up examples. As a group, we share tips, brainstorm ideas and problem solve. We've been able to reconcile leadership theory with practice."

Ericka Jefferson said the Emerging Leaders helped her "work smarter, not harder." Shortly after the program ended, she was promoted from supervisor to team leader of respiratory and pulmonary therapy at St. Mary's. Her project in the program reduced the response times for respiratory therapists to treat critically ill emergency room patients.

"As respiratory therapists, we have to cover the entire hospital, but we have to make sure we prioritize and get to those patients first who need us the most," said Jefferson, 40. "In order to improve the process we have to measure it, and the way to do that is to create data. The program gave me the tools so that I could see where we were, collect data, set a goal and create a plan to make the necessary changes.

"Doing something as simple as better organizing our department, so that staff can get easier access to the supplies they need, has made a huge difference and improved the quality of patient care," Jefferson said.


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.