Healthcare managers needed to lead in complex times

By Professor Joanne Travaglia*, UTS Professor of Health Services Management
Thursday, 14 May, 2020

Healthcare managers needed to lead in complex times

Healthcare managers have come under the spotlight as the coronavirus pandemic reveals deadly weaknesses in strategic thinking and decision-making processes at the very highest levels. The Ruby Princess fiasco and the disease clusters at two aged-care homes have demonstrated the consequences of flawed management protocols.

Tragically, the outbreaks have also shown that frontline staff can do little to save lives if mistakes are made at the big-picture level. What is needed is leadership, something that transcends the particulars of clinical specialties and relates to the ability to plan, anticipate, solve complex problems and respond rapidly in fast-moving environments.

The immediate COVID-19 crisis will pass — but the need for management expertise will not pass with it. Long-term demand for new leaders in the healthcare industry is being driven by increasing numbers of Australians with chronic and complex conditions, rising community expectations and the increasing complexity of the healthcare system.

Glaring examples are the high error rates in hospitals — estimated at one in every 10 admissions — and revelations of sub-standard care in some aged-care facilities that have caused public outrage. Such problems are prompting calls for greater accountability while at the same time resources are shrinking.

In this high-pressure situation, employers are actively seeking healthcare professionals with both experience on the ground and qualifications that provide a warranty of expertise. They need healthcare managers who have strong technical competence, communication and people skills, and the ability to multitask under pressure.

These healthcare managers need to understand the importance of using data to enhance health outcomes, plan and implement services and drive a service culture of quality and safety. They also need to innovate and improve systems, achieving efficient and effective delivery of health care with a focus on interdisciplinary care. At the same time, they have to plan for the sustainability of their institutions, inspiring their staff and ensuring their safety and wellbeing.

Postgraduate study offers solutions

The answer to these complex issues comes together most convincingly in a postgraduate degree, which offers proof that the holder has both strong clinical skills and the ability to facilitate great outcomes through the work of others. Postgraduate study can accelerate the acquisition of high-level skills and equip leaders to navigate Australia’s complex healthcare system.

The health professionals in greatest demand, now and in the future, are those who have invested in training and qualifications that will enhance their management skills. Education can empower these professionals to take on the responsibilities that come with management: leading a multidisciplinary team, managing risk, creating a safe work environment and contributing to the effectiveness of the healthcare system.

Strong job prospects

According to the federal government’s Job Outlook report, future job prospects for health and welfare services managers is “very strong”. The number of people working in these roles is expected to grow sharply over the next five years to 23,900 by 2023 from 19,600 in 2018. There are likely to be around 15,000 job openings over five years — or about 3000 jobs a year. As a result, there are good opportunities for all healthcare professionals to advance their careers by moving into these emerging leadership positions.

The financial rewards can be significant and professionals with postgraduate qualifications can rapidly earn back the investment in their professional development. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals health and welfare services managers were receiving an average weekly income of $2279 as at May 2018. These salaries easily outstripped the average Australian weekly income across all occupations of $1525.1

The UTS Online Master of Health Services Management equips graduates with the management skills needed for effective health care. Delivered part time and 100% online, this course gives students a deep understanding of the complexities of the Australian health and social care systems.

The Quality and Safety major gives students the skills to improve quality and safety in health and social care settings. It provides knowledge to apply planning and evaluation techniques, understand data and data sources, and assess systems for innovation. A general option with no major enables students to structure their own individual pathway with the help of a Student Enrolment Advisor.

UTS offers six intakes a year for its Master of Health Services Management: May, July, September, October, January and March.

*Professor Joanne Travaglia joined the Faculty in 2016 with internationally recognised expertise in health services research, management and leadership. She has conducted research in the areas of quality and safety improvement, health systems development and design, leadership, critical management studies in health and the delivery of health care to vulnerable groups. Professor Travaglia has received multiple evaluation and research grants at a federal and state level and has worked in the health, welfare and higher education fields in both Australia and internationally.


1. ABS Employee Earnings and Hours, Australia, May 2018.

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