• By Ruth Long
  • In
  • Posted Tuesday December 9, 2014

How to succeed as a practice manager

Having worked as a practice manager for twenty years at two busy urban practices in Leeds, I am well aware of the extent and varied nature of the role.  Each day in the life of a practice manager is different and you never know what is going to land on your desk or come through your door from one day to the next. I think this is what makes it both exciting and challenging. It is quite a unique job as you need to be ‘all things to all men’. Therefore, to succeed as a practice manager, you will need to have the following key competencies:

  • flexibility
  • adaptability
  • empathy
  • sympathy
  • energy (lots of)
  • diplomacy
  • tact
  • approachability

It is also necessary to be able to manage upwards (the GPs) as well as your main asset (the staff), and I am sure you will have heard the expression ‘managing GPs is like trying to herd cats.’

As a practice manager I found that most of my day was taken up with human resources and/or finance. However, it is a varied job and you need to be able to work across all of the following areas:

  • Human resources
  • Finance
  • Health and safety
  • Facilities management
  • Strategy and business planning
  • IT
  • Team leadership
  • Time management
  • A knowledge of employment law
  • Coaching/mentoring

Support & Delegate

Working with part-time staff can be very challenging, especially if there is very little cross over between shifts. This causes friction and you can spend a lot of time resolving these issues. Therefore, it is key that you involve staff in any decisions that will affect them and the way they work. If the staff feel involved then you’re half way to implementing changes.

It is certainly worthwhile delegating some regular tasks from day one, otherwise you can end up changing light bulbs, unblocking sinks and doing other routine jobs on a regular basis.

Staff appreciate your help and support in all areas of the practice and if you are visible throughout the day, this certainly goes a long way to helping the staff feel appreciated too.

On top of it all, the practice manager is very much seen as ‘piggy in the middle’, between the doctors and the staff and is expected to respond in a timely manner in a positive way.  

Chasing money

Monitoring claims, submitting invoices and ensuring the practice is being reimbursed on time can be very time consuming. Since the advent of clinical commissioning and the changes in the way practices claim for various services, the processes have become very complicated and time consuming. It is hoped that as time progresses, the systems become more refined and easier to monitor.

Excuse me...

Throughout your day there will also be constant interruptions from both staff and GPs and these need to be juggled and prioritised. 

Facilities management can similarly take up quite a lot of time, especially if the practice owns the premises. There can be constant problems with the building, plumbing and equipment breakdowns.

Think strategically

You will be required to produce business plans, strategic plans and other management reports on a regular basis for the partners. Whilst the partners are generally happy to leave the manager to “manage”, they do like to be kept informed of issues within the practice. 

Have a buddy

The job of practice manager can be very isolated and unless you have the luxury of an assistant, I would certainly recommend you to “buddy up” with another local practice manager. This will enable you to swap ideas, confirm courses of action you are not sure of and generally have someone to bounce ideas off and share problems with.

Be a leader

Always lead from the front.  Remember that without supportive staff, life as a practice manager can be difficult.  Have an arsenal of grace, be positive and always be forward thinking. A leader cannot be a leader without followers.


Susan Burrows 08/01/2015

Hi Ruth its true about practice managers being in a lonely place and needing someone to chat too in a similar position and your comments about doing strategic planning etc I feel I never get round to despite my best efforts. How did you fit things like this in?

Kate Gabriel 11/12/2014

Ruth summarises well the huge range of skills and competencies needed to succeed as a Practice Manager. As an ex-PM now providing training and Health and Safety support to practices, I am concerned about the lack of support many PMs receive. GPs are employers and have a duty to look after the welfare of all their employees. Whilst they usually delegate this responsibility to their PM for the rest of the staff, many PMs are left to look after themselves. What survival techniques to members have to cope when their GP bosses are too busy to support them?

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