1. Hader, Richard RN, CNA, CHE, CPHQ, PhD, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief

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Just because your job title signifies that you're the supervisor of your area of responsibility, it doesn't always mean you're the primary leader. A staff member may assume that role without formal recognition because he or she is perceived by colleagues as the individual who wields power and influences others. Should you, as the department's formal authority, feel threatened or intimidated? The answer is no. However, you do need to work with, manage, and lead these informal leaders.

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All groups and organizations have individuals who assume leadership roles without title or ceremonial acknowledgement. Whether it's because of seniority, expert professional skills, or charismatic personality traits, one or more of your staff members may have the ability to positively or negatively dominate your department's agenda. Your role as the formal leader is to identify and manage staff members who possess these notable characteristics and lead them to achieve strategic and operational objectives.


Identifying informal leaders is the first step in managing them. Carefully observe their peer interactions. What are the informal leaders' qualities that attract others to follow them? Are their approaches to conflict straightforward or passive-aggressive? Do they value the team's interests or are they self-serving? Depending on the approach and behavior of the informal leader, he or she might be your strongest ally or your fiercest competitor.


If the formal and informal leaders are consistent in achieving the same goals, coupled with a similar methodology to achieve them, it's a winning combination. A strong collaboration will facilitate goal attainment and departmental harmony. Capitalize on the talents of your informal leaders to drive initiatives. Encourage, mentor, and support them to take formal roles in shared governance activities. Publicly reward and recognize them for their achievements. Their ability to inspire teamwork and commitment from their colleagues will produce positive outcomes.


But if informal leaders are acting as antagonists to your authority, you'll do well to follow the old advice: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Carefully plan your interactions with any informal leaders who proved to be contenders. Seek their assistance in achieving departmental initiatives. Inform them that you value their abilities and leadership skills and wish to collaborate to attain success. Keeping them abreast of issues and seeking their input to solve problems will provide a forum to facilitate communication. Remember, however, that if you miscalculate the manner in which you manage informal leaders, you risk losing credibility because other staff members will be acutely aware of how you handle the situation.


Leading can be a shared process. Allow and facilitate opportunities for staff members to take the lead as long as they're held accountable for the team's successes and failures. If you promote the talents of all leaders, efficiency and creativity will improve, giving you a greater chance to optimize results.


Richard Hader