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Maintaining clarity when working with multiple leaders

When working in a network or organisation with many leaders, it’s not uncommon to be asked to approach a particular task or project by multiple people who think they want the same thing but in fact the messages are conflicting and confusing.

Ideally the project scope, the contract, the operating plan and project meetings should provide the clarity. However, understandably we all have a different lens through which we see things.

While there is no blanket or universal approach to managing conflicting messages, the following ideas may be helpful.

1. Ask clarifying questions

When you are given a task, clarify the expectations. I have provided a few examples below.

Who….. has the final approval?

What…… is the objective?

Why……. now?

Where….. is the data to support this work?

When…… does this need to start?

How….. important is this piece of work?

Ask these questions to the key decision makers in the same room at the same time. If you have any doubt, don’t be afraid to keep asking and keep clarifying.

As project leads we are hired to know the detail.

2. Don't canvas too many opinions

When we are not sure what to do, it’s quite natural to ask around to get different perspectives. Here I would caution against this as you are likely to invite conflicting messages.

Stick to your project team. In my case in often includes a GP Clinical lead, a practice manager and a business or ops manager. Together we work through the scope, issues, approach, resources, time lines and so on. Often there are a lot of unknowns and we accept this. We plan, do and review regularly to see what is working.

3. Assign roles and responsibilities

Assign roles and responsibilities to decide who is overseeing what and when.

You also need to confirm with your project team the preferred method of communication and reporting structure.

As project leads it's our role to create the systems and processes so we know who we are asking for information. We also need to really take the time to understand people’s working styles and motivations so we can better understand other perspectives.

Lastly, be patient. And always end every meeting with you summarising the agreed way forward.

About the author:

Tara Humphrey is the founder of THC Primary Care, a leading healthcare consultancy specialising in workforce transformation and the only consultancy to have worked with 11 Training Hubs across South London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

Tara and her team also work with GP federations supporting the implementation of clinical services.

Tara has over 20 years of project management and business development experience across the private and public sector and has an MBA in Leadership and Management in Healthcare, is published in the London Journal of Primary Care and is the author of over 100 blogs.

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