Top 10 List for New or Prospective Chairs

Don’t learn the hard way – here are tips from current chairs to help you in your new role as a department chair:

  1. Get to know your department and institution. Make a list of key individuals you need to meet with and interview such as other chairs, administrative leaders from the practice plan, hospital, health system, and school of medicine. Use this as an opportunity to learn about the culture and how to navigate the systems, establish productive working relationships and strategic partnerships. Interview every faculty member. Learn who they are and what they do, their career goals and priorities, identify individuals who are team players and think programmatically.
  2. Take your time. Use the first 90 days to get to know your department and who you rely on. There is no rush to make leadership appointments until you know what and who you need and who you can trust. Select individuals who complement your skill set even if you don’t always share their perspective.
  3. Set expectations for your leadership team. Develop job descriptions for specific positions and hold individuals accountable.
  4. Meet with the staff. Offer to visit the practices and share something about yourself, why you took this position and how you look forward to working with them to establish a vision and goals for the department. Listen to the staff – this will help establish trust and show you care.
  5. Identify mentors. It can be lonely at the top and it is good to have several mentors or peers to help you address the inevitable challenges a chair faces. It is helpful to identify mentors with leadership experience who can meet with you regularly and provide valuable advice. One mentor should be an equivalent within your institution (i.e. chair of another department). Another mentor should be an OB/GYN chair at a different institution.
  6. Do not compete with your faculty. It is your responsibility to serve as a mentor and assist in growing your faculty. Under no circumstance should there be competition for grants, national prominence, committees, etc. Now that you have made it to your position as a Department Chair, you need to maintain the mentality of “It’s not about me, it’s about my faculty.”
  7. Be visible and stay visible. Walk the halls and talk to the staff, residents, nurse and physicians in your department. Meet regularly with the housestaff – they will tell you what’s really going on and often have great suggestions.
  8. Be prepared. Never go to a meeting without doing your homework and allow yourself time to prepare and engage others in the process to be sure you have thought of all the pros and cons. Look at the data and use it to your advantage. Set the stage with a compelling story and then hook them with the data to justify your request.
  9. Strategic Planning is a group effort. Engage your faculty and departmental leadership in the planning process. Successful strategic planning takes some groundwork and careful preparation. Consider using a facilitator and carefully orchestrate the process.
  10. Engage your faculty. Asking faculty members to chair work groups or task forces to address a specific issue engages the faculty and helps build consensus. It also enables you to see how they function in leadership roles and who can get the job done. Don’t select the same people all the time – get everyone involved – it builds a loyal faculty. And don’t despair if some faculty leave – departures are inevitable in academic medicine and change can be energizing.