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The Three Skills Every Veterinary Practice Manager Needs

Becoming a practice manager can be a big transition for any veterinary professional. 

The role requires so many soft skills (which oftentimes must be learnt on the job) that it can be difficult to know where to start when looking to optimise them. 

This article outlines the three core skills every veterinary practice manager needs, drawing from research within veterinary management.

Staff Retention Skills 

Staff retention is a real problem in the veterinary world. Although the veterinary turnover-rate has gone down over the last few months (probably due to fears around job insecurity) it very much remains a problem in the field. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has reported that the veterinary industry has comparatively twice the turnover rate of other industries. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has further estimated that the average turnover rate within veterinary medicine is 21%, a startlingly high figure.

This is a problem as rehiring staff can cost clinics a huge amount of money (both in terms of recruitment costs and revenue loss). Having a veterinary job open for a month could easily cost $1000-2000 per day in lost revenue, as business is turned away or delayed. 

Although this is an issue, veterinary managers lack the skills needed to address it. According to a survey conducted by the UK based Veterinary Management Group and the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (2020), researchers found that veterinary practice managers were least confident in their abilities to monitor and evaluate staff, as well as provide and give feedback. 

Staff evaluation and feedback are key for staff retention, as regular monitoring prevents staff from becoming discouraged and disenfranchised from practice life. 

Therefore, having staff retention skills is an essential ability needed for the smooth running of the clinic; and certainly a skill for veterinary managers to invest in. 

Motivational Skills 

Although this quality is somewhat undervalued in veterinary management, it is nonetheless important. 

A veterinary manager shouldn’t just lead and direct the team, they need to motivate them too. All the evidence supports the view that a highly motivated team will outperform a poorly motivated one in almost all areas.

Yet, many practice managers are not confident with creating and developing plans and opportunities for their staff, an activity that is key for team engagement and performance. So much so, that in a survey of over 5,000 professionals, 22% said that they were looking for new jobs because they wanted better workplace training/opportunities. 

Having horizontal career prospects (as in the opportunity to move to a different technical position within a company) is another area practices might improve. 

Another reason why veterinary professionals are leaving the industry is because they don’t feel appreciated. Veterinary managers, therefore, need to remember to work on ways of showing appreciation, from a simple thank you, to more structured and formal types of recognition, to prevent team stagnation. 

Interpersonal Skills 

It is in a manager’s best interest to ‘win friends and influence people’ in the workplace.

Whilst a leader does require an aura of authority (to a degree), by no means does it mean that they should rule with an iron fist. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so nurturing and building relationships should be a priority for every practice manager. 

In a study on interpersonal skills and job performance, researchers found that interpersonal skill training improved workers’ post-training performance and chances of promotion in the future.

Further, in another study on the characteristics of top managers, researchers found that executives with greater interpersonal skills were more likely to be hired, indicating desirability for the skill. 

With 20% of employers finding that their new hires do not have the required interpersonal skills for the job, having and demonstrating those skills as a manager is therefore key for worker development. 

Takeaway Thoughts

Whilst many veterinary managers do a fantastic job, some skills are lacking within the profession. 

Having the skills to retain, motivate and communicate with staff are all important aspects of being a practice manager that are required for the overall functioning of practices. 

Having these skills will not only improve managerial performance but also make practices better places to work for the whole team. 

Current or prospective veterinary practice managers might also be interested in our Veterinary Leadership webinar. In this webinar, Dr Dave Nicol outlines the biggest mistakes veterinary leaders make, and how to avoid them. Become a better manager in 60-minutes, by registering for the complimentary class today:


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