Leadership And Communication Can Make Or Break An Agency

Strong leadership and effective communication–or a lack thereof–are two key management skills that can make or break an independent insurance agency, one top company trainer says.

Sound leadership is critical in making an agency’s producers and staff feel needed and involved, according to Patricia A. Murray, assistant vice president and director of education for Commerce National Insurance Services in Mount Laurel, N.J.

Indeed, providing leadership within an agency is considered so important in some circles, said Murray, that the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., has created a new certification called the Chartered Leadership Fellow program for life insurance agents.

A leader, in the simplest sense, sets goals and says “thank you” to employees, Murray said. But while many agency managers may be aware of this, they have failed to use their good leadership skills for a while, she added. Murray spoke at the first joint conference of the Professional Insurance Agents of New Jersey and New York, held recently in Atlantic City.

A good agency leader is also a manager who gets his or her hands dirty with everyone else, pitching in when help is needed. “Everyone appreciates that kind of manager.”

Having a poor leader–someone who does not set the proper tone within the office and does not attract new people, whether they are new employees or new clients–is one major reason agency employees end up leaving their jobs, she added.

Some of what a leader needs to provide, Murray pointed out, is an atmosphere where employees feel appreciated and, where possible, feel there is opportunity for growth.

There are other factors for employees staying in a job, she said, such as proximity and familiarity, but there are foundations of management leadership that an agency manager or owner can construct to keep employees involved and satisfied, Murray observed.

One important theme she returned to repeatedly is the need for communication between management and employees. In a leadership role, an agency manager or owner needs to set up the conditions for good communication. Regular meetings, whether monthly, bimonthly or however often it is felt necessary, are considered one avenue to achieve this dialogue, she said.

“Sometimes owners and managers assume everyone knows the goals, and employees dont,” Murray said.

Communication also means involving employees and encouraging excitement within the agency when there are major accomplishments. “Employees have to feel the importance, people have to believe in the vision [of the agency],” said Murray.

An agency owner or manager should also note an employee’s accomplishments–even a simple, handwritten note can do a lot to make a producer feel appreciated, she said. “Give credit and responsibility and encourage creativity,” she suggested.

Another essential element to good agency leadership is being honest with employees, according to Murray, who noted that honesty can avoid legal disputes.

Summing up, Murray said, “Communication is key and there should be no excuse today. With technologyif there is no time to talk, send an e-mail.”

Mark Ruquet is an assistant editor of NU’s Property & Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 27, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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