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Leadership: More Than Just a Word

Leadership is much more than just a buzzword. In current times, it feels like it’s become synonymous with any person who holds a position of power, or a term used online to be motivational. Yet, in the world of healthcare, it’s a Titanic-sized task, and a larger-than-life requirement of any successful healthcare worker. It involves the actual lives of those we serve, above and beyond an action or mental well-being. We are tasked with keeping people alive, and the capacity in which we lead can be the literal do or die to those we serve. Sterile processing leaders are tasked even further to pay attention to detail via instructions for use (IFUs), juggle multiple specialties of surgery, and balance time management that comes with add-on cases and unexpected inspections from regulatory agencies. In the medical field, it’s abundantly clear that not all leaders are created equal, and that every person at any level or role can be a leader in their own unique way, and the fashion in which they lead can indeed affect the trajectory of people’s lives.

In this article, we will walk through some of the different styles of leadership we see in sterile processing and characteristics that each type of leader holds. How we lead matters, and one proven reason why is found in this quote from AdventHealth University:

“Effective leadership has been positively associated with increased patient satisfaction and lower rates of adverse health results….[E]ffective leaders better retain and support staff, they can indirectly affect mortality rates in patients and positively affect other healthcare quality indicators.”1

We all want to be the type of leader that can positively affect quality and mortality rates. Sterile processing roles vary, ranging from technician to lead to manager, all the way to department supervisor or director. The truth is regardless of what position you hold, you have the ability to make a big impact.  

Let’s dive into some of the leadership styles exemplified so you can identify your own and harness it.  

Laissez-faire leadership
Translated, laissez-faire means “leave it alone” or “let it be.”2 This type of leader is creative and independent; they don’t micromanage. They trust that the team they lead understands the job at hand, and give a certain level of creativity to use their resourcefulness to accomplish organizational goals. “Also known as ‘delegative leadership,’ laissez-faire leadership is a method that assesses the unique talents of each employee and assigns responsibilities accordingly.”2

Characteristics include effective delegation, freedom of choice (as long as employees show they can efficiently complete tasks), sufficient resources and tools (provided by management), the ability to deliver constructive criticism, and the ability to take control back of the reigns when it’s needed.2

This type of leader thrives in SPDs. Teams love leaders like this because SP techs are rock stars, and once you equip them with the tools and training necessary, they almost always carry on and get it done.

Participative leadership
In this type of leadership, “the leader turns to the team for input, ideas, and observations instead of making all decision on his or her own. That’s not to say the leader doesn’t have the ultimate decision-making task; this is to say that the leader understands the team may have skills and ideas that could benefit the decision-making process.”3

It’s exactly how it sounds; this leader participates and is hands-on working with the team. They don’t sit high in a castle behind guarded doors; they walk across the moat and into the castle, put on the necessary PPE, and jump in to work alongside the team. They take the team’s input as really valuable when formulating processes and taking action.

Characteristics include great communication, open-mindedness, collaborative by nature, and this person has to be a critical thinker (they take the inputs given and still make the ultimate decision that is right for everyone).

This type of leader is a big-time winner in SP. Everyone loves that they are willing to gown up, clean out the bone mills, and wrap the billionth rep set of the day with them.

Transformational leadership
A transformational leader seeks to inspire positive changes in those who follow. Transformational leadership “is an approach in which a leader inspires and motivates team members to create positive changes within an organization. This leadership style can increase group morale, lead to rapid innovation, improve conflict resolution, decrease turnover, and foster a sense of ownership amongst a team.”4

Characteristics include people who are generally energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate. Not only are these leaders concerned and involved in the process, they are also focused on helping every member of the group succeed, as well.

Supervisors and directors of SP that are transformational tend to be really contagious to the team. They may get on technicians’ nerves from time to time because who has that much positivity and encouragement all the time? These types of leaders are still very human, but every department can benefit from having charisma and positivity brought on board to encourage tasks and employees in their really difficult, detail-oriented, and often daunting role.

Transactional leadership
Last, but definitely not least, is the transactional leader. “Transactional leadership depends on self-motivated people who work well in a structured, directed environment. By contrast, transformational leadership seeks to motivate and inspire workers, choosing to influence rather than direct others.”5

Transactional leadership “focuses on results, conforms to the existing structure of an organization, and measures success according to that organization’s system of rewards and penalties. Transactional leaders have formal authority and positions of responsibility in an organization. This type of leader is responsible for maintaining routine by managing individual performance and facilitating group performance.”5

Characteristics include practicality (they take all realistic constraints and opportunities into account), resistance to change, typically discourage independent thinking (things are good as they are), are passive, and appreciate corporate structure.

This type of leader is often a lead or supervisor in SP. They are critical to helping achieve a set of productivity goals in alignment to that of the healthcare organization in which they work. They help create department structure and make sure things get done how they are supposed to.

The laissez-faire, participative, transformational, and transactional leader all are very necessary in a sterile processing environment. Hopefully, this article has helped you uncover your unique style of leadership. If it has, we recommend you research it further, create a plan to put the type of leadership you best exhibit into action (for yourself and those in your department), and that you stay focused on micro-implementation and daily action to get closer to exemplifying the model you strive to achieve.

Go forth and lead your sterile processing department toward a better tomorrow.


  1. AdventHealth University. 2020. “5 Types of Leadership Styles in Healthcare,” July 27, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://online.ahu.edu/blog/leadership-styles-in-healthcare/
  2. 2020. “Laissez-Faire Leadership: Definition, Tips and Examples,” December 3, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/laissez-faire-leadership
  3. Udemy Blog. 2020. “Participative Leadership: What it Is and When it Works Best,” updated February 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://blog.udemy.com/participative-leadership/
  4. 2020. “Transformational Leadership: Definition and Examples,” December 3, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/transformational-leadership
  5. STU Online. 2014. “What is Transactional Leadership? How Structure Leads to Results,” November 25, 2014. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://online.stu.edu/articles/education/what-is-transactional-leadership.aspx


Rebecca Kinney has been working to improve patient safety in the medical arena for more than 13 years. She provides educational content on LinkedIn to help sterile processing and medical professionals gain knowledge as it relates to surgical devices, and her articles have appeared in Outpatient Surgery magazine. Her articles focus on the practical, hands-on knowledge operating room professionals can benefit from—never lacking in entertainment as she unfolds the true reality and struggles that are faced every day in the operating room setting. She is also a small business owner of a startup sales and marketing consulting agency.

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