Aged care leadership in Australia: Time for a compassionate approach

Jacqueline O'Toole, Larissa Bamberry, Alan Montague

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The establishment of the Royal Commission in Australia into Aged Care was due to emerging evidence of unsatisfactory care being provided to Australia’s elderly citizens. Examples provided to the Commission paint a distressing picture of inadequate care by numerous service providers. The evidence from the Royal Commission is compelling as it demonstrates undeniably that aged care is too frequently devoid of compassion or respect, representing an entrenched problem in aged care.
Purpose: This exploratory research examined perceptions of leadership within residential aged care services (RACS) and identified the crucial requirements for successful leadership in the industry. The paper explores the proposition that despite being an industry capitalising on the concept of “care”, one of the key attributes missing in many aged care leadership approaches is compassion, and that instead, efficiency and effective clinical care generally form the constructs of good leadership in RACS.
Methodology/approach: Drawing on in-depth interviews with eighteen participants in senior leadership roles in RACS, the paper applies a qualitative methodology based on a subjective ontology and a constructivist epistemology, to explore the construction of leadership concepts, competencies and traits needed within aged care.
Results: The paper finds that participants working at senior levels in the aged care industry believe that compassion is both a key component of, and a gap in the skill set of, aged-care leadership and leaders.
Conclusion: While most studies define good leadership and care in relation to clinical ‘safety’ and ‘efficiency’, this research demonstrates that compassionate caring is central to high-quality care for aged care residents and families. Subsequently, compassion is also a key and critical requirement for leaders in residential aged care services (RACS).
Practice implications: The findings of the paper underline the need for the aged care industry to enhance and encourage compassionate leadership as a cornerstone of humane and dignified care of the elderly. This includes the need for future research that explores whether compassion can be taught to current and future RACS leaders, as well as issues that influence patient suffering and carers’ compassion.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Nursing Management
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2021


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