4 ways dental assistants can develop leadership skills

dental staff placing their hands on top of each other in a team huddle

An occupation with “assistant” in the title may not initially seem like it provides many leadership opportunities. But dental assisting can open many doors in dentistry, including chances to develop management skills and step into new, advanced roles. Whether you have aspirations to become a lead dental assistant, educator, or office manager, here are some of the many ways dental assistants can hone their leadership skills as they pursue their career goals.

Continue learning

There’s always something to learn as a dental assistant. Embracing this mindset can only make you better and open more doors in your career. You can learn a lot by simply watching others. For example, you can observe how your fellow dental assistants get organized for the day or communicate with patients to make them comfortable, picking up nuances that can improve your own performance. Or, you could learn more about a task that’s currently outside of your normal duties. Knowing about billing and insurance, for instance, can help you advise patients and support the front office.

“The more you understand about why things are done the way they are, the better dental assistant you will be and the more you can contribute,” explains Leslie.

In addition to the knowledge you pick up from on-the-job experience, there are numerous continuing education opportunities and certifications available that can elevate your clinical knowledge and skills. Not only can these things increase your abilities as a dental assistant, but they also demonstrate to your practice that you’re serious about your career and capable of taking on new challenges and responsibilities.

“Be a sponge! Observe, learn, and soak up everything you can,” says Kim. “The opportunities as a dental assistant are there. Be open to growth and you can achieve them!”

Seek feedback

Learning doesn’t always have to come from courses or seminars. Your teammates and dentist are valuable resources for improving your skills, widening your knowledge, and becoming a leader. Regularly ask for feedback on what you’re doing well and what you can improve on. This will help reinforce your strengths and give you areas to continue developing. It also shows you’re invested in your career and willing to find new ways to help your patients, teammates, and practice.

“Positive reinforcement is vital for great performance,” says Tosha. “Not just for career growth but also for personal growth.”

Find or become a mentor

Mentors can be invaluable to dental assistants, passing on their knowledge, teaching them little tricks of the trade, and providing advice. Whether it’s another dental assistant in your office, a teacher, or another dental colleague, a mentor can help you establish yourself as a dental assistant and grow in the profession.

“Seek mentorship from an experienced dental assistant who can provide guidance and support,” advises Candace, a dental office manager. “Learning from them can help you navigate challenges and accelerate your growth in the field.”

As you gain experience and confidence, you may look to become a mentor and leader yourself. This often happens naturally. Dental assistants are driven to help people and be exemplary teammates, which often means they’re eager to pass on the lessons and knowledge learned from their mentors.

Take initiative

If you’re interested in becoming a leader in your practice, be proactive! Look for opportunities to step up, apply your knowledge, and try new things. It could be helping to coordinate the schedule, leading a morning huddle, or helping out a teammate who’s running behind by preparing an exam room or greeting and checking in a patient.

Additionally, you can take initiative by simply sharing your ideas and career aspirations with your manager. For instance, you may want to implement a new technology to streamline processes in the office or help train new hires. Perhaps you’re interested in becoming an expanded functions dental assistant, lead dental assistant, or infection control coordinator. Or maybe you’re interested in cross-training to become an office manager or pursuing dental hygiene. A good boss should support your goals and help you achieve them — it will help them do their job better, improve patient care, and elevate the dental practice!

“It’s nice when your doctor wants you to succeed!” says Samantha.

Learn more: How dental assisting can springboard your career