Top financial leaders build relationships and make complex issues understandable, leading to better decision making.


Hospitals and health systems have no shortage of excellent CFOs who, from a technical and operational standpoint, do their jobs well. However, those CFOs who exhibit “next-level” leadership qualities are the most successful in leading their organizations through the changing healthcare landscape.

Next-Level Qualities

What defines “next-level” can be subjective. In general, next-level CFOs tend to be finance leaders whose impact is clearly felt and seen throughout organizations.

Operationally, they relate well with colleagues from the C-suite to staff employees. They easily build relationships and make seemingly complex issues understandable, leading to better decision making across the board. They communicate the technical aspects of healthcare finance in language that CEOs, executive peers, board members, and others understand.

Today’s successful healthcare CFO must be able to accomplish the following four capabilities:

"Connect the dots" strategicallyThe ability to facilitate and drive strategy from the financial perspective is imperative. Enterprises are evolving and getting larger, creating an increasing need for leaders who effectively contribute to constant strategy development in addition to organizational financial management.

For example, many healthcare organizations are expanding outpatient models to complement inpatient care in response to the shift toward value-based payments and more patient-focused models of care. As a result, successful CFOs must bridge old and new models—they must know how to capitalize on fee-for-service realities yet also assess and advance concepts around value-driven and risk-based payment models. 

Understanding the market and providing financial solutions to support future growth and position strategies is critical for any CFO, but today’s most successful CFOs should be able to quantify their contributions to their current organizations' strategy development and participate in strategic discussions whenever appropriate.

Effectively communicate what the numbers mean. Great communicators create comfort and trust so that actionable decisions involving financials can be made confidently throughout enterprises. In-demand CFOs distill complex financial data around cost and revenue into simple terms and effectively articulate the impact to varied audiences (i.e., boards, senior leadership teams, staff, administrative leaders, physicians, and other clinicians). It is not just what they say, but how they say it. 

Next-level CFOs should consider the following three questions about communication:

  • How does my communication style affect various levels of the organization?
  • How can I improve oral and written communication skills?
  • Would different types and levels of communication, such as more face time and less e-mail correspondence, be received better?

Encourage relationship building and partnerships between finance teams and administrative leaders (financial liaisons to the organization). Annual budget development cycles should not be the only times that financial teams work closely with administrative leaders. If formal in-house business partner structures are not in place, CFOs should encourage and create environments where finance teams are actively out in organizations partnering side-by-side with administrative leaders.

One way to do this is to establish incremental financial-based goals per service line or administrative unit and develop trending financial reports that finance teams can use to further consult with and assist respective leaders throughout the year. These relationships not only breed continued trust in financial teams, but also foster transparent environments where administrative leaders can review relevant financial data, become comfortable asking questions about it, and openly develop and promote ideas that could be profitable to their areas and their organizations.

Mentor and coach by building financial literacy within teams and across enterprises. Some CFOs recognize the need for financial education within their enterprises around particular topics–for example, budgeting and payment–and proactively create or develop frequent training sessions that serve as baselines for new administrative leaders and as communication vehicles for frequent financial updates to all leaders. 

Not only does this mentorship and training display initiative, but it also is seen as selfless service to the betterment of organizations. These financial leaders are intentional in building financial education opportunities at all levels to help leaders understand how to drive revenue.

Beyond Technical Abilities

In the quest for attaining next-level CFO status, healthcare finance leaders should ask themselves if they can not only excel at the technical aspects of their roles, but also find ways to take their organization to higher levels. Being able to speak to the financial efficiencies and best practices they or their team imparted to others in the organization and the impacts of that information on organizations’ bottom lines goes a long way toward showing next-level leadership qualities.


John McFarland is a consultant in Witt/Kieffer’s healthcare and not-for-profit practices.

Publication Date: Thursday, February 14, 2019