Qualities of Strong, Effective, Quality-Focused SPD Leaders

April 23, 2024

Sterile Processing (SP) leaders, like business leaders in other segments, must possess many skills—and know how to apply them consistently and effectively to be successful. Strong leaders not only strive to inspire and motivate their teams, but they also oversee considerable production cycles and critical safety requirements to ensure safe, high-quality, and well-functioning devices and exceptional service are delivered to their many healthcare customers within the organization. 

Certainly, all leaders are not created equally. Although there are both great and poor leaders, virtually any dedicated, quality-focused SP professional can step up as a leader in their own unique way. They can become a Certified Instrument Specialist, for example, an unofficial mentor for fellow technicians, or serve as a liaison between the Sterile Processing department (SPD) and Operating Room (OR). Even the most experienced leaders should aim to continually broaden and improve their leadership skills to support their team and customers. Any departmental or business leader can make or break an organization, either promoting good outcomes or contributing to avoidable risks. This is why organizations must make hiring and developing excellent leaders (and mentoring and supporting future ones) a top priority.

Core priorities for effective SP leaders

SP leadership priorities are vast and will vary slightly from one facility to the next; however, some fundamentals should always be emphasized. These can include:

  • Building dedicated teams of trained and certified staff that proactively solve problems in real time, while planning for incidents before they arise (and potential mitigation strategies).
  • Improving or maintaining staff engagement by creating a positive and supportive culture where employees receive ongoing education and training and are proud of the work they do each day.
  • Emphasizing safety and quality practices and empowering staff to raise issues or concerns that may affect the quality of their work and compromise patient care.
  • Assessing instrument set inventories and streamlining same-day instrumentation turnaround, while also reducing error rates for surgical and procedural instruments.
  • Being prepared to adapt to changes, tackle unexpected challenges, and seize on emerging opportunities.

Successful leaders also possess certain essential qualities, including integrity, accountability, and empathy. They hold high moral and ethical standards, are honest, and foster trust within their team. They take responsibility for their actions and their team’s performance, whether good or bad, and are supportive and encouraging, bringing out the best in their employees. They are also compassionate, respectful, and know how to connect with others, regardless of their backgrounds and differences.

Further, excellent leaders are experts at cultivating interdisciplinary relationships and collaboration, including with departmental and facility executives. They are competent at managing departmental and interdepartmental conflict and understand the need to partner for quality and safety. The best SP leaders are also confident in their knowledge and skillsets and know how to bring about the best in their teams and colleagues. They understand how their interdisciplinary colleagues work within the interconnected, broader healthcare ecosystem and lean on effective communication skills to clearly and concisely address problems, seek and adopt solutions, and foster compliance, motivation, and engagement.

Finally, effective SP leaders have good vision and strategic foresight. They plan effectively, stay current with industry, regulatory, or standard changes, set clear goals that will benefit their teams, customers, and organization, and keep a finger on the pulse of technological changes and innovations that will impact SP operations now and in the future.


Becoming a strong leader is always an ongoing journey, and any dedicated employee can become a leader, even informally. Effective leaders, regardless of their official title, are dedicated to sharing their knowledge with others, lending valuable support and collaborating for improved quality, safety, and efficiency.

About the Author

David Taylor

David L. Taylor, MSN, RN, CNOR is an independent hospital and ambulatory surgery center consultant and the principal of Resolute Advisory Group LLC, in San Antonio, Texas. 

Image courtesy of Kat Velez, LeeSar Regional Service Center, Fort Myers, FL, HPN’s 2017 SPD of the Year
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