The Role of a Successful Practice Manager

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Lisa Bainham has been the Practice Manager of award-winning dental practice, The Old Surgery, for the past eighteen years. In 2016, she took over the presidency of The Association of Dental Administrators and Managers (ADAM). Here, Les Jones met up with Lisa to get her views on the business of dentistry.

LJ: Hi Lisa, can you tell me a bit about the practice and your specific role?

LB: The practice has been running now for eighteen years and I’ve been the practice manager pretty much since day one. I was working at the doctors’ surgery next door when the practice was set up. I’d trained as a dental nurse and it was actually the doctors who suggested I should go for the post.

My role is a bit difficult to pin down because it’s been so many different things over the years. Essentially, I’m responsible for the day-to-day running of the business so that the dentists can concentrate on what they need to do in surgery. Over the years, I’ve built a very strong team in the practice and I delegate a lot of responsibility to them. I think to be a successful manager, you have to have the confidence to not be threatened by people in your team doing well.

Whilst I try to keep my hand in on most aspects of running the practice, without a doubt, many of the team members are now better than me in some of the key areas, which is very pleasing. It allows me to concentrate on some of the bigger challenges like the marketing of the practice, which still very much sits with me.

Giving people the space to develop and showing that you’re confident is very much part of the culture of the practice. I’ve certainly found that with Steve and Rich, the two principal dentists, who have always had a ‘you can do it!’ approach with me and the rest of the team.

LJ: What are your core principles that drive you as a practice manager (PM)?

LB: I think first and foremost it’s about having a very clear vision and a set of standards that everyone in the practice is aware of and buys into, and we definitely have that here. We set our standards very high and we’re not prepared to let them slip –  consistency is key.

Then, for me, it’s about creating a culture where issues can be discussed and resolved easily. Throughout my time here, I’ve never lost my temper or shouted. If I have a moment, I just take a minute to take a deep breath and calm down. I don’t think you can deal with things rationally if you’re always losing your temper.

Finally, I think communication is extremely important. We have regular meetings to keep all of the team in the loop as to how the practice is doing and what issues or challenges we’re facing.

LJ: Do you think it’s about building and maintaining the ‘brand’ of the practice?

LB: Absolutely, which makes it much easier as a manager – it’s not just me saying this is what we need to do or this is how we should behave, it’s the whole practice as a collective. So, anyone new joining the practice has to fit in to the culture and standards that we all do.

LJ: So, what is the vision for the practice?

LB: It’s very simple, we just want to be the best in everything we do. That’s why we’ve started entering some of the dental awards to measure ourselves against other practices and to aspire to being the best. When we’re shortlisted or win, we take a number of the team with us to the awards ceremony so that everyone can share in the success of the practice. The whole team is very proud of what we do and we want that to come across to our patients so that they can feel reassured that they’re in the right place.

“I think to be a successful manager, you have to have the confidence to not be threatened by people in your team doing well.”

LJ: What would you say are the biggest changes you’ve seen in dentistry over the past eighteen years?

LB: Without a doubt, it’s the level of customer service, which is now much, much higher than a few years ago. I think customer expectations are a lot higher these days and when they walk into our practice and they see the nice environment, they have an expectation that it will be matched by our customer service and of course, the quality of our dentistry.

The team on the front desk pride themselves on providing that service and if someone’s not quite on the ball, for whatever reason, they’ll move to the back office for a while so that the patients are not affected. And they police that themselves, I don’t need to get involved. We just accept that we can all have a bad day, but as a team, we’re committed to maintaining a consistent level of service.

LJ: What are your biggest challenges as a PM?

LB: I find the compliance side of the practice a bit of a graft. Clearly, it’s very important, but I always feel like I’m being diverted from other areas of the practice. On the other side, I really enjoy analysing the business performance against our KPIs. These are all shared with the team and we focus on the areas where we’re not quite doing well enough, but the team don’t think of it as a criticism, they use it as a challenge to come up with ideas for turning things around. Everyone shares in coming up with new ideas, which is really positive.

“An effective team cannot be managed by a one-size-fits-all approach”

LJ: What opportunities and threats do you think the practice is facing at present?

LB: In terms of opportunities, there are many – we are expanding the referral service that we offer as well as communicating with new and existing patients and referring dentists, more effectively online.

We are also successfully running study evenings and peer reviews, both in practice and at other venues. I think that complacency can always be a threat so we keep a close eye on that!

LJ: If I could wave a magic wand, what one business issue would you like to get sorted?

LB: I think that compliance has become a bit of a monster. I do understand that it is an important function, but I would like to see it organised in a much more straightforward and practice-friendly fashion, although hopefully the changes that have been made to the inspection process since the first ‘round’ of inspections will be useful. However, having had the CQC ring me this morning to announce their visit in two weeks, I will soon have first-hand experience!

LJ: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

LB: Oh that’s easy. Never take your customers/patients for granted and regularly solicit their opinions – that way you can ensure that you are delivering what they want.

LJ: What advice would you give to someone taking on the role of a PM?

LB: Have a thick skin! And, realise that different people react to different stimuli – an effective team cannot be managed with a one-size-fits-all approach. Adapt your management style, try to be all things to all members of the team, whilst remaining honest, fair and friendly, but stay firm in your beliefs and practice vision. Also, one bit of advice that has always stuck with me is, ‘Stand up and show them what you’re made of’.

Having the right support and guidance to give you the confidence to lead your team and help your practice excel is priceless, and having a great coach, such as Tracy Stuart, has certainly helped me to do this. Invest in yourself and your team!

LJ: You’re taking on the role of President of ADAM in October, what are your main objectives in taking the organisation forward?

LB: First of all I want to build upon the fantastic work that Niki Boersma has put in as ADAM President over the previous years. I want to continue getting the message out there that ADAM can help administrators and practice managers do their jobs more effectively.

LJ: What role do you think ADAM has to play within the wider dental industry?

LB: I hope that by raising the profile of administrators and practice managers with all stakeholders in the dental industry, we can make everyone aware of how integral to the running of a dental practice our members are. There are many hats that a PM wears within a modern dental practice, including compliance, marketing, accounting and HR. ADAM wants to guide the people doing these roles, and hopefully inspire and provide confidence to practice owners and dentists that investing properly in a practice manager can allow them the freedom to do their job better and hopefully more stress free.

LJ: How do you think the role of PM has evolved in recent years and how might it further evolve in the future?

LB: I think that we have seen practice managers come to the fore, as it has become clear that a 21st century dental practice needs a trained and dedicated manager; not a clinician looking at it when they get the chance.

LJ: Do you think the PM role receives the amount of recognition it deserves?

LB: No, not always! However, this is slowly changing and I hope that my new role will allow me to bang the drum for practice managers and administrators and make everyone aware of the fantastic job they do.

LJ: What benefits does an effective PM deliver to a practice?

LB: There are many benefits that an effective practice manager can deliver within a practice, but for me the most important ones are:

  • Helping a practice to fulfil its potential by taking on many of the key business roles within the practice that allows the clinical team to concentrate on what they do best… the dentistry
  • Ensuring that all the compliance and paperwork is in order
  • Managing the team effectively and ensuring that we have a happy team, who in turn keep our patients happy (and all the ups and downs that can entail!)
  • Essentially, for me, it’s about driving the practice forward!

Without a doubt, Lisa is a practice manager who walks the talk The Old Surgery just happens to be my dental practice and it’s always a pleasure to visit for an appointment – great dentistry in a warm, friendly and helpful environment. I’m sure that Lisa will bring her energy and ideas to ADAM and help to build on its reputation and relevance to practice managers and dental administrative staff.

Find out more information about ADAM



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