Much importance is placed on Sterile Processing (SP) staff development from a career ladder perspective to help technicians advance in their titles and responsibilities. Still, it’s equally vital to help frontline technicians develop soft skills to advance their professionalism, increase their confidence, and help them better navigate various situations in their current roles.
“As we develop in this profession, I believe our next level of growth will revolve around professionalism, communication and the cultivation of skills that allows frontline staff to be considered professional technicians. There’s a difference between being a technician and being seen as a professional,” said Anthony Bondon, BSM, ASAE, CRCST, CHL, Central Sterile Processing Manager for HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Ill., during his April 26 educational session at the 2022 HSPA Annual Conference. He told attendees how SP leaders must value their technicians and their roles today, recognizing that some individuals may never aspire to become leaders but rather the best technicians they can be.
“The frontline staff are the people doing the work. Leaders must give energy and focus to these frontline employees and help them develop the right skills to handle situations that can occur daily in the department.”
10 essential building blocks
Bondon shared 10 must-have skills that every SP leader should develop with frontline technicians to help them communicate better and deal with stressful situations most effectively and professionally:
1. Creativity. Frontline team members “need to be able to think outside the box and think on their feet,” he said. When customers are coming at SP employees with difficult requests or demands, technicians need to use policies, procedures, standards, guidelines and other data to demonstrate that the SP team is doing the right thing.
2. Confidence. Technicians must be able to confidently deliver messages to their healthcare customers. “Leaders need to teach staff to be confident in their roles and knowledge. They can speak to the policies and procedures and why they are there for a reason and need to be followed. We need to fight [difficult situations] with the truth.” Role playing is another effective strategy for helping technicians be prepared and communicate professionally when difficult situations arise.
3. Problem solving. Managers need to be open to teaching their frontline staff to talk about their ideas and solutions to problems. Bondon puts his employees on different teams, so they can share ideas—and before he makes a change in the department, he sits down with the team to discuss it. “Again, they are the ones doing the work, so we need to value their opinions and share ideas. That helps build their confidence in the process.”
4. Perseverance. In healthcare, perfect practice is what makes perfect, Bondon stressed. Leaders must give their employees a voice and share with them their knowledge and things they’ve learned during their own leadership development training. This can be done during staff huddles and other teaching moments throughout the day. The more leaders and frontline staff members work together to develop skills that improve processes and professionalism, the better the outcomes and the more likely informal leaders will develop within the department.
5. Competence/Focus. When someone from the operating room demands their instruments right now and suggests that a step can be rushed or skipped, for example, Bondon said it’s critical that leaders remind their teams to advocate for the patient by not caving due to pressure—instead leaning on the standards, guidelines, policies, instructions for use, and best practices.
6. Communication. SP technicians must have the tools and training to model professional behavior consistently and communicate effectively (verbally and non-verbally) with their teammates and customers. “This is not always easy because we work in a stressful environment, and some days will be better than others. But when the rubber meets the road and we’re in a crazy workday, my team pulls together and gets the job done. We understand that the patient is our common ground.”
7. Constructive feedback. This is a challenge for many, Bondon acknowledged, and overcoming it takes discipline and willingness to avoid getting caught up in personal own feelings. He encourages every staff member, regardless of experience and tenure, to speak up and question anything that seems incorrect. “But we need to be willing to take constructive criticism, too, if we’re going to be the best we can be.”
8. Collaboration. Across all shifts, the team must work together, share in the responsibility, and do whatever possible to steer the best practices and outcomes each day. “From first shift to second shift and second shift to third, it should be ‘next man up,’” said Bondon, using a hockey analogy where one teammate jumps in immediately after another exits. “We all have days where we come in and face a giant—when we have 60 or 70 cases when we typically only have 35 or 40. But we all work hard as a team and collaborate to get the job done.”
9. Dedication. Be dependable, say what you mean and be honest about the realities of what is possible, based on standards, IFU, best practices and policies and procedures. “When the pressure is on, technicians need to know that they must always be truthful for the sake of patient care.”
10. Accountability. All team members’ actions affect others. Leaders should help their frontline staff learn from their mistakes, without fear or embarrassment, and turn errors into positive teaching moments. When a team member makes a mistake, Bondon reminds the technician of the proper way and then may have them lead an inservice to help ensure the entire team understands the correct way and why it is important.
“These soft skills are coachable, teachable and necessary for our frontline staff,” he said. “I implore all leaders to teach, share with and develop their frontline staff, so they can be the very best they can be right now.”