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Understanding politics within the NHS


The drama that unfolds as co-workers and  leaders “play the game,” form alliances, take credit, manipulate, show favouritism  can be interesting, entertaining, exciting or annoying – depending on your perspective.


But believe it or not, many managers are skilled in acting in questionable or cringe-worthy ways.


Switched on leaders take a realistic approach to managing workplace politics in the NHS. They understand that they – and their colleagues, need to navigate competing interests, scarce resources, and ambiguity in authority, unclear rules and lack of information.


Politically astute clinical and non-clinical leaders do four key things, with diligence and thoughtfulness:


 Network. Effective networking isn’t about how many people you are connected to, staying and becoming a successful leader by just knowing a lot of people. It’s the quality and diversity of your network that counts.


For the politically savvy, networking is about connecting with the right people so you have a greater insight – and greater say. Networks need to help you bridge different groups of people and cross organisational, sites and operational lines. They should help you understand the formal and informal structures so you can get good intelligence, insight and support when you need it.


Consider your connections. What people or functions or groups are your strongest connections? Which are weak or distant ties? Are your close ties limited by location or function? Who should be in your network but isn’t? Who knows the people you want to know? With this insight, you can strategically ask for introductions, seek opportunities to get to know and work with key people.


Think Before Acting. This is essentially impulse control. You don’t need to always say what is on your mind or jump right in with your solution. If you are composed (especially when things don’t go your way), people are more likely to be at ease around you, allowing you to have difficult conversations, gain support and build political influence.


If you’re familiar with emotional intelligence, this is the idea of self-regulation by paying attention to your reactions this week. Who and what trigger emotional or impulsive responses from you? What might be the political and relationship fallout from your actions? What would happen if you pause to gain perspective and then choose the best response? If self-regulation is a big challenge for you, consider working with a coach or mentor to help you identify your hot buttons and find ways to deal with them.


Leave a lasting positive Impression. Organisational politics can veer into manipulation. The antidote to this is to build trust. Politically astute NHS managers find that by being honest and sincere in their relationships and requests, they inspire others to trust and have confidence in them. In contrast, a lack of integrity will weaken relationships, bring your credibility into question and undermine your influence.


Learning to manage politics is really part-and-parcel of leadership development. It’s about building and strengthening relationships, knowing yourself well, having a good sense of humour and what is going on about you and acting in an authentic way. As a result, you’ll have what it takes to get the resources, access and information you need to lead effectively.


Reading the situation. Politically savvy managers tend to be good observers.  Astuteness and the ability to read and anticipate situations – allows you to prepare, adapt and tailor your behaviour based on the people and conditions around you.


Boost your powers of observation is to pay attention to the nonverbal behaviours of the people around you.  Try to get a sense for how people are feeling in addition to what they are saying. Active listening – paying attention, holding judgement, reflection, and clarification and summarise and share – allows you to hear and understand where others are coming from.


Maguire Healthcare Training have developed a new course Understanding Politics within the NHS designed to help senior healthcare professionals broaden or develop their overall understanding of the politics which exist within the NHS ,helping them navigate and develop skills to influence and negotiate positive outcomes within their role.

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