How Physicians Can Best Manage Their Manager

March 12, 2014

You have a practice manager or administrator in place, but that does not mean you can leave all the practice management responsibilities up to him.

You have a practice manager or administrator in place at your medical practice, but that does not mean you can leave all the practice management responsibilities up to him.

Here are four key areas in which physicians need to closely manage their managers:

1. Finances and accounting. While many managers are trustworthy, you need to watch out for the bad apples, Mary Pat Whaley, a practice administrator for more than 25 years and founder of Manage My Practice consulting firm in Durham, N.C., recently told Physicians Practice. "I have to tell you physicians are easy targets for embezzlement and fraud by managers," she said.

If you don't have the time to periodically check up on your manager's accounting and financial operations, or if you don't have a great understanding of how it all should work, Whaley recommends hiring a CPA or consultant to check in routinely. "The administrator, if they're worth their salt, should appreciate that," she said.

2. Performance. Just as your manager should hold your staff accountable for their performance, you should hold your manager accountable. In fact, the bar should be set even higher for the practice manager, recommended Whaley. "The physician has to hold everyone to the same standard and actually the manager has to be held to a higher standard," she said.

A few key areas to watch: Make sure that the manager does not show favoritism toward certain employees, and that she fosters staff growth, Judy Capko, head of Capko & Morgan, a practice-management consulting firm in San Francisco, recently told Physicians Practice.

"Be aware of the manager who does not release control or want to train others to do things that he or she feels only he or she can handle," she said. "That star manager can be a problem for the rest of the staff. You've got someone who wants to shine all the time; they're threatened by good performance, when in reality we want the best performance for everyone."

3. Conflicts. Sometimes disagreements occur between managers and staff members. When this occurs, physicians should consider getting involved. This will assist the manager in resolving the conflict, and it will also ensure that if the manager is acting unfairly toward staff, you become aware of it quickly.

Still, be careful not to jump into the fray too quickly. Make it clear to staff that they must approach their manager with problems before approaching you, said Capko. "You may be usurping the manager's authority, which is very dangerous; dangerous to morale, dangerous to getting the job done well, very politically dangerous."

4. Authority. Sometimes managers are promoted to their role after serving in a different one at the practice. That can be a great thing, but it can be disastrous if that role and the responsibilities associated with it are not clearly defined, said Capko.

Make sure you establish clear boundaries regarding what the manager is responsible for, what his level of authority is, how much money he can spend without obtaining permission, and so on, she said. "I've seen some incredibly reckless things happen in practices where doctors release themselves from all the management responsibilities."

Want more guidance on how your practice management responsibilities should differ from your manager's? Take our "Whose Responsibility Is It?" quiz to see if you have split up the responsibilities correctly in your practice.