Duties and Expectations of Behavioral Health Program Managers

In the medical treatment field, there are a number of careers and positions that deal with the impact of behavioral problems. Sometimes these can be a result of upbringing, mental illness, criminal environments, emotionally disturbed conditions, or reactions from drug abuse and substance abuse. A behavioral health program manager provides a critical mid-level manager role in agencies and organizations that provide treatment for such conditions.

People hired into the behavioral health program manager classification can expect to be placed into a multi-tasking environment with supervisorial as well as technical and professional demands.

The program manager position is not an entry-level classification. Because the next level up typically involves a senior behavioral health manager position, a large amount of responsibility rests on the general program manager in running his or her assigned area. Additionally, the mid-level manager can regularly find him or herself as a direct contact with government agencies in regulatory discussions and reporting of the employer’s program and practices. This requires a level of responsibility and tact to frame communications to such entities appropriately.

To be prepared for such roles, candidates need to be able to show they already have an in-depth knowledge of psychotherapy, substance abuse treatment, and psychiatric casework both in terms of theory as well as treatment techniques. Candidates also need to be well-versed in understanding the causes of behavioral sickness including social causes, illness, emotional disturbance and substance abuse.

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For supervisorial aspects, candidates need to be able to function adequately in organizational planning and supervision of staff within a mental health treatment environment and/or a substance abuse treatment program. Duties of a candidate hired into a program manager position will vary, depending on the organization or agency involved. However, a number of the core tasks are the same from employer to employer.

Like any manager, behavioral health program managers must manage staff while also addressing their own specific tasks as well. In the health field, this can include supervising staff with a variety of certifications and skills, some that the manager may him or herself not have a full expertise in personally. Most managers will be expected to gain a general understanding of areas under them as well as direct treatment and clinic activities under their assignment.

Reporting to higher management levels tends to be common as program managers will need to provide regular updates as well as special written documentation regarding treatment practices, performance, case-specific information, and general program performance. Additionally, many managers are also assigned the financial oversight of their reporting areas to keep their operations within budget.

Behavioral health program managers can also find themselves responsible for developing much of the initial research and study work on changes to treatment programs and procedural guidelines used by their employer organization. Along these lines, such managers typically become the contact point for received grants and related programs using government funds or outside entity grants to study special issues or topics in mental health.

Finally, as a mid-level manager, program managers have to be able to provide daily leadership and guidance to employees, coordinating a program team’s effort and efficiency in their own duties and unit output. This regular task can require multiple forms of communication to express management’s direction, filter information specific to overseen units, as well as take note of staff concerns if changes are needed. Much of the success in this task and duty depends on the manager developing adequate relationships with staff reporting to them.

Those in registered nurse classifications are potentially good candidates for seeking careers in the behavioral health program manager role. These individuals can find advanced education in a RN to BSN programs offered at a number of college and universities.

Graduates can then expect to find careers in treatment clinics, government research, hospitals, out-patient programs, and non-profit assistance programs. A variety of opportunities exist as many institutions and related employers tend to keep an ear open for qualified candidates as trained behavioral managers are not the easiest skill set to find