How do you lead professionals who have the same level of authority as you do? 

That’s a question Blair Bond had when she signed up for the Management Practices Certificate at the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies. 

As the quality improvement specialist for a Minnesota health plan, Bond guides her organization through the ongoing process of accreditation into the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), the “gold standard” of health plan assessment across the country, according to Bond. She also compiles the requisite documentation needed annually by state and local regulators. 

“It’s tough to influence when you don’t have authority,” says Bond, whose job requires her to elicit the necessary information from multiple departments and interact with colleagues whose daily tasks are sometimes at odds with her own. “Everyone has their own responsibilities and deadlines and they don’t always line up with mine.”

Tools of the Trade

A few years back, after Bond was promoted from facilitating the accreditation process at the department level to managing the process company-wide, she realized she’d need to level up her skill set. 

“After the promotion, I was invited to be part of a group of about 10 to 12 people who get together to talk about leadership with our CEO. We were also offered some options for additional training, and the U’s Management Practices Certificate was among the choices. I was ecstatic when I saw that it matched exactly with the skills I wanted to gain,” says Bond, who completed the certificate in December.

The certificate consists of four core required courses and one elective. The required courses are Management Essentials for Success, Develop Leadership Skills, Strategic Planning and Measurement, and In-Depth Coaching: Lead Individual Change Interventions. Bond says she got a lot out of each course.

“The courses have all given me useful tools I apply everyday,” she says. “What struck me was that the overall philosophy advocates a more human-centered way of approaching change management. It’s not the old top-down approach. You’re asked to listen to the needs of your peers and not focus solely on what you need or what you think you need.” 

From the instructors to the content to the convenient location—taking the certificate was an excellent experience. I know I’ll use the skills I gained for years to come.

Bond says she learned a technique that helps her understand where someone else is coming from, why they might resist buying into the process, and how to overcome that.

“We learned to identify personality types and the ways people give push-back. And we were given tools that help me influence them to cooperate with the process. Before taking the certificate, I would have had to escalate it to a higher-up.”

Although Bond doesn’t actually manage a team, she says she especially benefited from a course section on team foundations that taught them to ask, “Do I have the right people at the table?” Bond says she uses that exercise regularly. 

“There’s lots of documentation that needs to be kept up to date to meet our quality assurance obligations. I was working on this one report when I found out it was originally a sales document and so was owned by the sales team. But the information I needed was from other departments that have little to do with sales. I would have to coordinate with personnel from all the involved departments to gather the necessary material if I was going to make the document comprehensive and accurate. 

“Now I meet monthly with the people responsible for providing me the information I need to keep up with accreditation requirements. Keeping them at the front of the work is not always done unless we meet regularly to keep it there,” she says.

A Social Leader

Bond says taking the Management Practices Certificate helped her identify her leadership style as a social leader, based on the Hogan leadership style assessment. Hogan describes social leaders as being skilled at communicating, networking, and building relationships to engage and motivate staff. The certificate also helped her understand the difference between a manager and a leader.

“A manager makes sure the day-to-day operations are running smoothly. A leader creates an agenda, looks more deeply at what we’re doing and why, and explores what we can do differently to improve,” says Bond, who aspires to lead a team of her own and says the certificate has given her the skills to do that. 

“From the instructors to the content to the convenient location—taking the certificate was an excellent experience. I know I’ll use the skills I gained for years to come.”