What does it mean to be a good manager in the health and social care?
“Health and social care managers are required to understand the bigger picture, be supportive, possess extensive insight and competence, know how to interact with and consider other people, have courage, recognise, admit and learn from their mistakes, engage in collaboration and follow the agreed policies, be fair and kind and tolerate unfinished business,” lists Sanna Laulainen, Professor of Social Management Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland.
While the list of qualities of a good health and social care manager is long, the expectations placed on managers are also imposing. Current challenges include broad requirements on expertise, the expansion of the scope of duties and collaboration across sectors, the digitalisation of services and management, financial difficulties and the anticipation and assessment of the impact of each action and inaction.
“In the health and social services reform, management can be thought of as the “glue” that brings and holds together different parts of the whole. It serves as a type of lens for looking at the reform from different angles. In that sense, management can be seen as bearing a great responsibility, but I wouldn’t go so far as calling managers miracle workers. Generally speaking, managers are often faced with unrealistic or even unfair expectations.”
Laulainen is particularly interested in how the integration objectives and spirit of the health and social services reform are "contagious" to management and work communities, and how collaboration and coordination transcend and lower boundaries. When studying integration, even the researcher must be open to crossing and looking beyond traditional boundaries.
“The switch from thinking in terms of us and them to become partners in a common cause is not a simple or necessarily conscious process, let alone a rational one. Still, I am certain that the organising of services in the spirit of integration will further emphasise the collaboration of health and social care professionals and managers and their shared and personal responsibility.”
New perspectives and experiments help understand complex phenomena
Sanna Laulainen joined the Department of Health and Social Management at the University of Eastern Finland as a professor of Social Management Sciences last September. The professorship in Social Management Sciences is focused on research into health and social care organisations, work communities and management and their development through diverse critical methodology.
Laulainen leads the research group on critical management and organisational studies in health and social care and the research group on elderly care.
"My goal is to develop and enrich the theoretical and empirical study of social care management and, more broadly, the health and social care management. For example, I am interested in how health and social care professionals and experts could act as active partners to management and key factors in the development of services. Since some premises can be difficult to identify and verbalise we need novel methodological solutions and experiments, such as the use of visual arts-based research methods.”
Increasing multidisciplinarity in manager training
Management is a key theme in Sanna Laulainen’s field of study despite other hot topics in the health and social care sector, including the socioeconomic impacts and human tragedies of the pandemic, demographic changes and regional inequality, concerns about services for the older people and the health and social care sector’s challenge to attract professionals and workplace fatigue.
Many hot topic issues are linked to health and social management, work communities and the human side of organisations. Laulainen highlights the role of employees as a reciprocal to management and an active party in the development of work communities and services. She has studied organisational citizenship behavior, which looks at how employees act for their organisation’s benefit and actively take part in its development and raise attention to problems.
“A change-oriented organisational citizen who seeks to promote change is not quiet, obedient and adapting but brings out her views and experiences constructively and seeks to influence the organisation’s operations. She acts as both a mirror and a catalyst to the development. While this may seem like an obvious requirement in the health and social care sector, research and practice shows that this critical voice and activity lacks sufficiently room or ambition,” says Laulainen.
In addition to her research, Laulainen participates in teaching and thesis supervision in the Department of Health and Social Management. The Department trains Master’s degree students in fields such as Health and Social Management Sciences.
“All our students are adult students with previous degrees and work experience. They have a strong desire to improve their expertise and ability to work effectively in constant changes and understand the challenges in the sector. As a critical scholar, I believe it is important to seek new points of view on research and teaching and look at things from novel, different and even unconventional perspectives instead of adhering to doctrines and familiar, simplified solutions.”
Professor of Social Management Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, 2020-
Doctor of Social Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, 2010.
Master of Social Sciences, University of Kuopio, 1999.
Key positions held
Deputy Director, Department of Health and Social Management, University of Eastern Finland, 2018-2021.
Visiting Professor of Health and Social Care, University of Suffolk, 2019-2022.
Professor of Social Management Sciences (temp.), University of Eastern Finland, 2018-2020.
Senior Lecturer, University of Eastern Finland, 2013-2018.
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Eastern Finland, 2011-2013.