Module 1: Integration of shelter medical and management teams for a collaborative healthcare program

Putting Down the Scalpel: Shelter Veterinarians as Leaders

What is leadership?

Leadership is the act of motivating and inspiring a group of people to work together to achieve a common goal. Leadership is not a function of title and role in an organization and who has “authority”. Leadership is more about a group of people working as a cohesive team to achieve shared goals.

Leadership is empowering people, inspiring people, and leading change for a shared visionLook at the word “leadership” – notice there is no “me”; instead, the “ea” is an integral part of “team”.

Real leadership is about influencing hearts, engaging minds, and earning the trust of co-workers. This type of leadership creates the most impactful outcomes.

Effective team leaders are not authoritarian. Effective leaders are facilitators and have a combination of the following traits:

  • Provide a vision for the team that is rooted in the shared goals and values of the organization
  • Inspire and motivate the team to embrace and work toward the shared goals
  • Delegate and empower: delegates roles and tasks to those with relevant expertise and experience and empowers and trusts them to do the job as they see fit. This is all about matching the right person with the right job.
  • Good communicator in sharing information with the team and in coaching individuals. Communication includes being a good listener and soliciting constructive feedback and opinions of team members.
  • Integrity and accountability: the leader’s words and actions and follow through set the tone and attitude of the team. While all team members must have accountability for their actions, leaders do not cast blame on others.
  • Respect: treating people with respect is one of the most important traits of a leader. Respect creates trust.
  • Gratitude and empathy for coworkers and team members. You can never say “thank you” enough. Recognize and celebrate the efforts of others.
  • Courage: good leaders have the courage to step up and inspire others to find solutions to problems, try new approaches, or change goals or policies. Courage means rising to the challenge while accepting the risk for failure.

Leadership qualities include problem-solver, supportive, inspirational, honest, highly committed, passionate, reflective/decisive, and creative.

The traditional model of leadership is a top-down hierarchy with one person at the top (“the boss”) issuing instructions and tasks to team members. Everyone on the team reports up to the boss.

Shared leadership is the upside-down version of traditional top-down leadership. In this model, the team is “the boss”. All team members are empowered with opportunities to take leadership roles in their areas of expertise. This requires giving the most qualified people discretion and autonomy over their tasks and resources and supporting their decisions. No one person has all the answers or is expert in everything – solutions and innovations are contributed by everyone.

According to the Harvard Business Review, shared leadership leads to better organizational performance. When individuals feel they have an impact on the organization and some power and responsibility, they have a greater desire for success in achieving the organization’s mission and goals. Sharing leadership increases loyalty and respect, which in turn creates positive relationships with minimum conflict.

You are not “Just the Vet”

The underlying premise of shared leadership is that decision making is not solely based on an individual’s formal position or title, but on their knowledge and skills. By virtue of their training, veterinarians are the animal healthcare experts in shelters and thus the most qualified to serve as the leaders in making decisions regarding animal care. According to the 2022 ASV Guidelines on Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, veterinarians should be integrally involved in development of organizational plans for the shelter and must have supervision of medical and surgical policies and practices for the animals.

ASV Guidelines Statements on Veterinarian Leadership Roles in Shelters

  • Because animal health is interwoven into virtually every facet of sheltering, veterinarians should be integrally involved with development and implementation of an organizational plan, and must have supervision of medical and surgical care of animals.
  • Expert input on all policies and protocols related to maintenance of physical and behavioral animal health should be provided by a veterinarian.
  • Authority and responsibility must be given only to those who have the appropriate knowledge and training. Many decisions involve issues of resource allocation as well as population health and individual animal welfare. In cases where animal welfare could be compromised, a veterinarian’s decision should not be overridden.

But we are just veterinarians – most of us have not had formal training in leadership or management of a team. Many of us don’t see ourselves as leaders. For many of us, taking a leadership role is out of our comfort zone.

A cat whose shadow is shaped like a lion
You are not “just the vet”

But you are not just a veterinarian. You are already a leader. Veterinary school training and veterinary practice experience has prepared every veterinarian to be a leader. Veterinarians lead their medical team every day, they decide the diagnostic and treatment plan for each animal, and they advise clients (or shelters) on options for management of medical and surgical conditions. Veterinarians are subject matter experts in animal health and welfare and public health, well-respected thought leaders in the community, are teachers and trainers, and their expertise brings credibility to an organization. Veterinarians are problem solvers.

Shelter veterinarians are leaders for their medical team. Should they be part of a shared leadership team for the shelter? Every shelter has problems to solve, and since veterinarians are problem-solvers by training, they are a natural fit for a shared shelter leadership team.

Watch This

In this webinar (39:53), Dr. Katie Broaddus provides further insights on how shelter veterinarians can leverage their scientific training and problem-solving skills to make an even bigger impact as a leader and manager. Dr. Broaddus served as the Chief Veterinarian for the Austin Humane Society where she supervised the medical care for over 11,000 animals each year. In 2017, Dr. Broaddus became AHS’s first Chief Operations Officer. Dr. Broaddus served 6 years on the Board of Directors for the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and is the co-coordinator for the Shelter Medicine class at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Focus Guide for Watching Putting Down the Scalpel: Learning to Lead as a Doctor and Manager

  1. Time frame 2:25 to 13:25 (11 min)
    • You are not “just the vet” in the shelter
    • Doctors are already trained to lead
    • Stepping out of your comfort zone to be a leader
  2. Time frame 13:36 to 22:04 (8 min)
    • What is leadership?
    • Being a leader is a privilege
    • The vet sets the tone for the team
    • Common pitfalls in doctor leadership
  3. Time frame 27:56 to 29:54 and 34:21 to 37:31 (5 min)
    • How to manage and lead as a doctor
    • Listen to your team members with expertise in other areas
    • Be humble: show self-confidence but not self-importance
    • Be trustworthy: follow through
    • Don’t be a blamer
    • Get out of your own way: you don’t have all the answers so rely on your team for input and solutions
    • As part of the team, are you the decider or the advisor?


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