5 leadership tips from a public policy officer


If you Google, “chief public policy officers,” David Tatum’s name is one of the first to pop up on LinkedIn’s list of most popular public policy officers.

As the chief public policy officer of government and community affairs at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), he’s spent his career dealing with the nitty-gritty of Medicaid, late-night legislative meetings and making sure the kids at CHOA get the best care possible.

Policy wonks and marketers might be sitting in different departments, but Tatum’s leadership advice is something we can all learn from.

Take a look:

1. Take it personally

No matter what role you play at your hospital, it matters.

“Too many people don’t take their work personally,” Tatum says. “But in healthcare, you have to take it personally. What you do affects the lives of your patients.”

He asks: If you’re not passionate about what you do, particularly in healthcare, why are you doing it?

Every position at the hospital can directly or indirectly affect patient care.

“If the person scrubbing the floor doesn’t do a good job, infection rates could increase. If the people serving the food at the cafeteria aren’t friendly, families won’t have a positive experience with us. If I’m not successful dealing with legislative or regulatory issues, kids who need access to care won’t get it,” says Tatum

2. Tell a personal story

During lectures and meetings, Tatum knows people will tune him out if he drones on and on about numbers and statistics. That’s why he tells stories, instead.

“Last year, our hospital treated 365,000 kids,” Tatum says. “That’s a nice number. But what does that mean?”

Instead, he’ll frame the number by saying this:

“That’s like the entire population of Savannah, Valdosta and Waycross all come up here for treatment. Imagine The Walking Dead hitting those towns and they all come to us. That’s huge.”

If you don’t make things personal during your presentations, people will go back to checking their iPhones.

3. Fight for what you believe in

A few years ago, Georgia’s then governor Roy Barnes’ budget proposed to eliminate a portion of reimbursement for primary care clinics run by hospitals. This would have affected six clinics at CHOA. Tatum knew that if these clinics closed, more people would go to the ER, causing the state to pay more in Medicaid.

“I told Governor Barnes, ‘Imagine being a single mom on Medicaid with a two-year-old. You get a letter that says CHOA is closing and she needs to make other arrangements. Since she works all day, most other pediatrician offices aren’t available to her when she gets off work. So, when her kid is sick, she’ll take her kid to the ER. It may not cost her additional money, but it costs the state more.’”

Barnes reversed his policy decision.

“It was financially smarter for the state not to eliminate these clinics,” Tatum says. “And it was better for all the families, too.”

4. Don’t lie

Tatum spends three months of the year at the Georgia General Assembly. It was here he learned the first rule of lobbying: Never, ever lie.

“Your credibility, your reputation is all you have, when it comes down to it. CHOA is a not-for profit, so we can’t make any political contributions. The only thing I have to appeal to those I’m lobbying is my personal integrity, and the integrity and goodwill of CHOA,” says Tatum.

He adds that it’s important to only hire people who tell the truth.

“I don’t work with anybody who is going to lie to me.”

5. Work with your peers

Tatum says he frequently works with the marketing department on a variety of communications issues, especially when it comes to media coverage. It’s important for hospital marketers and policy people to work together.

“A lot of public messaging has to be consistent with what we tell legislators in Atlanta.”

He also encourages colleagues to spend less time emailing colleagues and more time talking to each other.

“I’m a big fan of thanking people in person and not just emailing them thank you’s. Also, introduce yourself to people in your office. The next time you need something, they’ll be more likely to respond. When you’re in a big organization, you need to get out of your chair and meet people.”