Though many healthcare facilities require their Food Service Director to be a Registered Dietitian, some allow for Certified Dietary Managers or highly experienced Food Service Operators to fill that role.  Should you find yourself in direct charge of a team of Registered Dietitians in your Nutritional Services department, and you are NOT an RD, you could face a hurdle when managing this very important segment of your team.  How can you direct, correct, manage or motivate a staff that has credentials that you do not?  This certainly is an issue that could challenge your effectiveness as a leader if you do not take steps to understand fully the impact, role, culture and workflow of this part of your team.

Communication & confidence is key.  They are aware that you are not an RD.  There is no need to feel inadequate as your hospital administration believed in you enough to hire you for your role.  In fact, your hospital leadership team probably has a similar situation where a non-clinical administrator is in the position to manage nurses and physicians.

You should have morning and afternoon shift huddles that include your entire team (with some exceptions given the daily workflow). The Dietitians, or at the very least a representative from your clinical dietary team, should attend these huddles and have opportunities to present information. This is a great way to continue to explain the “why” to your kitchen workers and food service workers.  Why do we use a 4 oz. scoop for the mac & cheese and why do we have to use the low sodium recipe?  Is it a big deal to send more than the amount of sugar substitute ordered? What is a renal diet and why would someone be identified as needing that particular diet order? Encourage Q & A. Celebrate their accomplishments or any recent success with a patient outcome.

Plan a weekly meeting, which you run, with your Dietitians. Collaborate with them to ensure topics covered are useful and pertinent. It is up to you to be aware of their roadblocks and accomplishments.  Ideally, include your Executive Chef or Kitchen Manager to the meeting regularly to promote leadership team unity. When planning menu updates or changes, include your clinical team. Utilize their input to ensure that there are elements of a healthy diet on your patient and retail menu.

You must bridge the gap between your kitchen team, patient tray delivery team, retail staff, and clinical staff. As the Director, you are being asked to have a wide breadth of understanding of your team and how their roles fit with each other. Not necessarily be an expert in every detail of your department’s operation- but a solid awareness of each team member’s role and their strengths and weaknesses. How all of these individual gears turn on a daily basis to feed every patient, employee and visitor that requires and deserves a satisfying, safe meal.

Above all, engage with your Dietitians with purpose. Do not avoid interacting out of fear that you will be in a position where you do not know the answers.  They are experts that you have on your team and it is there responsibility to provide you with any information you may need to address any diet related concern. That is their job and they are proud of it. Your job is to ensure that they know you appreciate, trust and value them as a team member that you manage.

Your team is diverse in their skill sets. A kitchen team member may have had no formal training, but have years of practical experience in many aspects of kitchen duties. A food service worker may not yet be out of high school, but they have a keen awareness of good customer service and are detail-oriented.  Your clinical team is diverse as well. Find out who they are and how their strengths can be utilized to improve your overall department performance.  This is your job.