Leading and managing a care home is both demanding and rewarding. The role includes everything from the day-to-day running of a home to implementing strategies, systems and procedures that benefit service users and allow staff to provide the best care possible. It takes a special kind of person to be a care home manager.
There is no official guide on how to be a good care home manager. However, we thought it would be interesting to find out what managers already working in the sector think makes someone succeed in this role. We conducted a short confidential survey in September 2020 asking about their: experience, leadership, thinking strategically, operational skills, the impact of technology and the work life balance. In this blog we pick out some of the key themes from the responses we received.
1. Experience Matters
The first question to ask yourself to become successful in this craft is ‘What does a care manager do on a daily basis?
We asked managers – “What experience do you think was particularly important from your career prior to becoming a care home manager?”
The view, overwhelmingly, was that good care home managers need to have had the experience of working in more junior jobs in a care home so that they understand the various roles. As one manager said, “Working my way up – having experienced the stresses of working on the floor as a care assistant and then a senior care assistant, I can empathise and work much more closely with my staff”.
Another manager, referring to the time when they had been a care support worker, said, “Having once worked for a manager who had no time or respect for care staff, I promised myself no care worker would ever feel unappreciated or worthless if I could help it”. Making staff feel valued and understanding who they are as people and their roles, is all part of being a good manager. As one manager pointed out that “Starting out as a care assistant and climbing the ranks is the best experience. This allows you to see things from a different perspective as a manager and understand the impact of your decision making.”
Clearly working up from the bottom in the care industry can give a manager much more confidence in their abilities. It’s also hugely reassuring for staff members and carers, having someone as a leader who’s been there and done the things that they are doing.
2. Strong Leadership
A care home manager is responsible for the performance of the care team; for uniting all staff so they strive towards improving the everyday life of service users. We asked managers to tell us about the skills they think make a strong leader and the ability to motivate others.
One manager emphasised how important it is to “Lead by example, have a strong presence in the home and praise a job well done. Recognise your team’s achievements in one to ones and in team meetings. Use your past experiences to show that you know how they feel and how difficult the role can be” and “that includes never asking your staff to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. Be part of the team and always remember you’re an employee, the same as everyone else”. This advice was echoed by another manager who said, “Roll your sleeves up and be one of the front line staff. Send team members off for a break and clean a toilet or assist a client yourself.”
The little things matter too, as one manager pointed out: “Always say thank you when you’re leaving for the day and always say good morning”. These small moments of politeness and gratitude show staff that they are appreciated, and can help towards fostering an attitude of togetherness in the workplace.
Providing excellent care in a home requires good teamwork, with everyone pulling in the same direction. The way the manager interacts with the team will determine how effective it is. The advice of one manager is to “be open and honest” with the team, but also “be part of the team”. Have “interactive staff meetings”, a “what matters to you” tree for the staff, goodies, donuts and pizzas etc”. They all help to build those strong team bonds.
3. Thinking Strategically
Being able to think strategically to develop your organisation and the services provided is also a key requirement for a care home manager. In our survey we asked managers for any examples that show how important it is to think strategically.
As a care home manager you may have loads of ideas of how to improve the care in your home, however it’s important to devise strategies that will ensure any new processes get implemented properly. Fully researching how new strategies might affect your care home is vital and so too is not changing too much at once. One manager’s advice was to implement new processes “step by step, don’t try to change and develop the whole service at once.” Ultimately, ensuring each change you make to the service is actually beneficial.
Another manager stated the importance of “Explaining to your staff team exactly what you are doing, why and how they can implement your ideas throughout the home in line with the regulations”. One manager encourages staff participation in the development of the home by formally asking them to “submit ideas for improvement, anonymously if they wish”.
Integral to the successful strategic management of a home is effective budgeting and financial management. One respondent reinforced this by saying “Budgeting is a good skill to have as well as planning for the unexpected”. Another said, “It’s always good to know your budgets and have an effective relationship with the local authorities and your inspector. Ensuring your beds are filled and the staffing levels reflect the dependency of individuals. Recruit in line with bed management and nurture your team’s thirst for knowledge and training”, which is good advice.
4. Project Management and Organisational Skills
Having good project management and organisational skills are key to effective working and can help avoid unnecessary stress. We asked managers to give us some examples of the skills they have developed to be better managers.
At the top of the list was “time management and delegating to others”. This helps to “share the workload rather drowning one person”. Recognising you can’t do everything on your own, one manager clearly stated “Delegate. You can’t do this job on your own. Knowing your own limits can help to ensure projects are completed efficiently”. It was also stated by a manager that “I delegate and train others, so that everyone can step into any role at any time”. Spreading responsibility around the team should ensure their effective completion.
Being a reflective learner was another key skill identified by a manager, reviewing the “mistakes and good outcomes and learning from them”. Also “not being afraid to ask for help and appreciate the help you receive.”
Another important skill highlighted in the survey was the ability to listen to the staff and actively seek their views – “I became a good listener, I always seek ideas and opinions from staff”.
5. Technology and Work Life Balance
We asked the managers whether they had found technology important in maintaining a work life balance. Their responses were mainly positive. As one manager puts it, “being able to access emails and my computer at home allows me to complete a task which may be urgent. I find I relax better if I don’t have outstanding jobs playing on my mind”. Another manager was pleased to share – “Yes, I can work from home on my laptop which has eased the strain of having to spend more hours at work”
However, there was also a recognition it can mean there isn’t the same opportunity to leave work at work – “technology can prevent you stepping away and switching off from work (mobile phone and emails)”. Another manager said, “Technology has been my worst nightmare since the pandemic – phones, emails etc means you never switch off”.
Support for Leadership Development
If you are a care home manager, or you aspire to be one, then an excellent way of improving your abilities is to sign up to one of the many short leadership courses that training providers like Access Skills provide. You’ll find a range of different courses on offer, all designed to improve various areas of your management and leadership skill set – many of these courses can be completed remotely in timeframes as short as half a day, meaning you don’t have to take too much time away from your day-to-day responsibilities.