5 tips for 1st-time leaders in radiology

When radiologists decide to take on a leadership role for the first time in their careers, it can be both exhilarating and a bit intimidating. A recent opinion piece in the Journal of the American College of Radiology examined this experience, breaking down several tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.

“The talents that have previously distinguished that radiologist as an outstanding clinician or researcher may not be the same as those needed to be successful as a leader,” wrote lead author Puneet Bhargava, MD, department of radiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, and colleagues. “An effort to ‘ease’ into a leadership role without planning, education, and experience may be fraught with unintended and undesirable consequences.”

These are five of the team’s most helpful tips:

1. Begin preparing well in advance.

“If you see yourself in a leadership position in the long term, you should start preparing as early as possible,” the authors wrote. “An easy place to begin is with seminal books and articles on leadership development.”

Another way to prepare is participating in various committees, they added, especially if the radiologist can find a mentor to help them learn how to best contribute.

2. Treat leadership as a new, separate skill.

Any radiologists considering moving into leadership is most likely going to have a strong clinical background, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the skills required to lead an entire group. You may be able to get by as a specialist without being friendly to your co-workers, for example, but that won’t work if you want to take that next step in your career.

“Your success is related to planning and implementing a progressive agenda for the entire group,” wrote Bhargava et al. “It is important to focus on learning ‘soft’ political, social, and cultural skills (the so-called people skills), which can help make you a charismatic and motivational leader.”

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

First-time leaders must understand how important communication is to their success. A leader must establish their vision for the future, share it with their team and then create a “safe environment for healthy debates and differences of opinion.”

The authors add that changes should be implemented slowly, and there should be a way for the team to provide honest feedback about how things are going.

4. Put together a strong, balanced team.

New leaders must remember that teamwork means more than simply telling everyone to get along; hiring decisions must be made that will help the team truly be the best it can be.

“Recruit those individuals whose skills complement those you feel are lacking on your team,” the authors wrote. “For example, if your group lacks adequate subspecialty radiologists, such as a cardiac radiologist or a dedicated vascular imaging technician, hire one. Delicately balance internal recruitment to preserve local culture with external recruitment for fresh ideas and a different perspective.”

5. Lead by looking beyond your own team.

Bhargava and colleagues noted that being a leader also means communicating with other individuals and other leaders outside of your own team. Finding a mentor or participating in imaging societies are just two ways that a leader can explore new ideas.