Patient safety depends on leaders who show a deep commitment to collaboration, open communication, and ongoing improvement.

Patient Safety Planning Tools / Leadership

Take a safety-focused leadership approach

Leaders — from individual physicians in a small practice to top executives and board members in acute care hospitals — demonstrate through their words and actions the priorities they set for the organization. A safety culture will flourish in an organization with leaders who show a deep commitment to fostering a collaborative environment, responding to concerns, and improving patient safety.

  • Demonstrate Commitment to Patient Safety
    • Good leaders will take advantage of every opportunity to show that they care about patient safety and want to hear concerns from the entire team.
    • Model these attributes in all interactions: collaboration, clear and open communication, asking questions to learn, encouraging suggestions from all staff regardless of their role in the practice.
    • Ensure that safety is on the agenda for all staff meetings and is approached in a constructive way.
      • Always thank staff for raising concerns to reinforce the important of bringing attention to potential issues.
      • Staff comments may range from a faulty piece of equipment that needs repairs to two similar medication abbreviations that are easily confused.
      • Actively work to meet staff needs. When feasible, take action on the spot (for example, contact facilities about a work order for faulty equipment). If the organization is unable to fulfill a request, brainstorm alternate approaches that can accomplish the same purpose.
    • Establish regular visits from leadership to frontline staff to listen for, track, and respond to safety concerns, often called "WalkRounds."
      • Visits may be as brief as 15 minutes. They might occur monthly or biweekly, circulating through every area in the organization at least once over the course of a year in a big organization.
      • Set dates in advance and stick to the schedule to show that the leadership is invested in the process.
      • Include executive leaders as well as the patient safety coordinator.
      • Consider visiting patients and families as well to gather feedback and demonstrate leadership commitment to patient safety.
      • Review this WalkRounds information sheet for safety rounds based on a Massachusetts system that started conducting visits.
  • ​Take responsibility for adverse and patient harm events
    • Actively seek answers to questions about what went wrong; expect and encourage staff to probe deeply for root causes of adverse events.
    • Insist that corrective actions be devised, implemented and evaluated for effectiveness.
    • See the Analyze tool for more resources for responding after an adverse event to find out why it happened and how to prevent it from happening again.
  • ​Encourage development of reliable processes
    • Support and encourage staff to build processes for standard care and communication.
    • Be sure the organization is soliciting input from patients and family members.
    • Invest energy and resources in improved reliability.
    • Be sure safety factors are weighed when considering changes to care delivery processes designed to improve productivity or efficiency.
    • Support continuous process improvement in all areas; patient safety work is ongoing and iterative.

This page was adapted from the Betsy Lehman Center's Patient Safety Navigator. Visit the Navigator website to learn more about analyzing adverse events, communicating in the aftermath of serious harm, and reporting medical errors to state and federal agencies.