Practice manager overwhelmed by new leadership role

What is expected in a PM role? It’s up to senior management to define it

A veterinary practice manager writes:

I was promoted to practice manager about 6 months ago. I have been with this employer for less than 12 months in total, so I’m pretty stoked about getting this promotion!
We’re an established group of practices, and each location has a PM. The requirements of the role are the same for everyone, so I’m not sure why I’m finding it quite difficult to fit into this new role and the expectations.

I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of most admin-related things, so I don’t think it’s my lack of experience in performing the actual tasks that’s the problem.

The expectation to be available all the time and solve every problem in the practice is too much. I get phone calls at all hours of the day and night about the malfunctioning alarm system. Last week I was woken up three times by the security company because the alarm had gone off. Sometimes I even have to drive to the practice to see what has set off the alarm.

I was talking to a vet tech in the staff room about how I was really tired that morning and didn’t feel like coming to work (I had worked an extra couple of shifts on the weekend), and one of the senior managers overheard the conversation. He approached me afterwards and said that it wasn’t OK for me to talk about being tired because it’s negative, and I’m in a leadership position.

The week prior to that, management had organized a team-building event, and I said I couldn’t attend. I was told that even though it’s not compulsory, as a practice manager, I should really be there.

It just seems that in addition to my new tasks as a practice manager, there are a whole bunch of ‘rules’ and responsibilities that no one tells you about. Am I being unreasonable?

Yes, you are. Well. Going to the practice at 3 a.m. in search of a potential robber is a bit much, but the rest would certainly be within my expectations.

You do bring up a valid point though when you say “there are a whole bunch of rules and responsibilities that no one tells you about.” That comes down to two things: leadership and expectations.

Leadership

This is such a completely overused term that if you asked 100 PMs what it meant, each one would give you a different explanation. There is probably a line in your new job description, somewhere toward the end of your duties, that says something to the effect of, “exhibits leadership skills.” Most of the time, it’s up to you to know what leadership skills are.

Sure, there are a bunch of skills that everyone agrees need to be exhibited by a leader, but there is a range of characteristics that are less commonly cited, may not be required by your employer or even expected of someone with your level of experience, who is new to the role.

For me, a positive attitude is a non-negotiable characteristic of a leader, so I agree with your manager about not whining to your colleagues about being tired and especially about not wanting to be at work.

The difference between doing this a vet tech versus doing it as a PM is this: when you are a ‘leader,’ people look to you for guidance and even base their actions on yours. The saying goes, “Your team will copy 80 percent of everything you do wrong and only 20 percent of everything you do well.” I don’t know about the exact statistics, but I do agree with the premise. You complaining once about not wanting to be at work will somehow turn into five people complaining three times each, and that’s just the following week!

Regarding you not going to a team-building event, I don’t think that’s such a big deal if you miss out once in a while. However, I agree with your manager about this one as well — constantly missing out on this out­-of­-work time with your team will cost you in the long run.

You may have heard the saying, “You should have a better relationship with each team member, than they do among themselves.”
Why? Well, because you want them to come to you first, not go to each other. When that receptionist is thinking about resigning, you don’t want her speaking to everyone else on the team about how ABC Clinic has become a horrible place to work. You want her to come to you first, so you can do damage control early and minimize the effect her departure has on your team and operations.

Expectations

Since you are new to the role and because the definition of ‘leadership’ can carry some ambiguity, your employer should have had a long discussion with you about their expectations of you as a leader.

That may start off with the broader leadership skills they expect, such as ‘a positive attitude,’ with an explanation of why that’s important and how you can display a positive attitude. They should also cover what’s considered a negative attitude, and what the appropriate communication channels are if you do want to air your grievances.

It sounds like there are some logistical considerations as well, that fall a little outside the ‘leadership skills’ conversation, such as who is expected to come to the practice in the middle of the night if the alarm goes off.

It’s Not Too Late

My advice would be to sit down with your employer and explain that since this is your first leadership position, you are experiencing some challenges and would like to work with them to find a solution. 
I suggest you ask for additional leadership training, whether that is internal or external. Internally, they may be able to give you a mentor, almost like a leadership coach, who you can speak to on a regular basis to discuss some of these ‘softer’ skills. 
Externally, there are lots of great leadership courses, ranging from one-day workshops, to year­long programs. I would highly encourage you to seek out one that suits you, and attend!


Want to submit a HR question of your own? Send it to hr@consultmates.com.

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