5 questions to consider before challenging authority in a pharmacy organisation

I recollect a situation, a story shared by an experienced pharmacy manager who I consider a friend, an ordeal he experienced at his place of work, the incident still torments him till today. He refuses to take on a permanent employment scarred by work place politics. He challenged the authority and culture of the work place and whilst the motive behind his approach was appropriate- driven by patient care. Some, aspects could have been approached or managed in an alternate manner. He reported the constant pressure he was subjected to at work, his mind bended until it broke.


At the time of the incident he was a passionate young pharmacist with dedication burning in his heart. He was curious and quick to challenge any aspect which could affect the daily events of his pharmacy. He often found misunderstandings working alongside the store manager who had his own agendas, mainly focused on increasing sales of the pharmacy. A resource driven approach taken by the store manager often caused conflicts as the pharmacy staff are expected to carry out retail tasks which sometimes impedes on the pharmacy tasks.

We had a discussion about a recent article in the Harvard Business review written by Megan Reitz and John Higgins, the article highlights 5 questions to consider before challenging authority. We evaluated this article and believe this tool could provide guidance to any pharmacist stuck in a sticky predicament. We discuss these questions below, but from the perspective of a community pharmacists.


  1. How much do you believe in your own opinion? Conviction is something you must consider before you challenge a store manager, superintendent or anyone in a position of authority. As a pharmacist your opinion must be based on the fundamentals of pharmacy code of practice and patient care. However, you must also consider elements of your environment, but you must always note that patient care is priority and cannot be bargained. It is worth considering the business side of a pharmacy or at least ensure you have thought of it. By, demonstrating that you are aware of the needs of the business even if you do not at that point accept the position or idea proposed. The demonstration of the business needs will ensure that your arguments resonate, why? Because it demonstrates your empathy and shows thoughtfulness.
  2. Do you have a realistic grasp of the consequences of speaking up? This is extremely important! A lot of people fall short on this, they speak-up solely with the intention of raising awareness to an issue. However, speaking-up is sometimes like lighting a fire in the house, it can spiral out of control and burn down the house. Thus, it is important to know when to speak-up and choose your timing to improve chances of success. It is also important to have in mind before speaking-up an image of what success looks like, this will help you weigh the balance of speaking and not speaking up.
  3. How will what you have to say affect the political games being played in the organisation? Politics is a norm in all organisations, it is inevitable and to survive you must learn to understand the political environment. In community pharmacy, a challenging comment to a pharmacy manager may place the superintendent pharmacist in a compromising position with you stuck in the middle.
  4. What are the social rules that govern how you speak up and how you are listened to? According to the article by Reitz and Higgins, “human beings label one another, often unconsciously” and this is certainly true in all organisations including community pharmacy. In an independent pharmacy it maybe very easy to raise an issue due to the flat organisational structure whilst in a multiple it maybe expected as a fundamental part of any process to speak to your area manager first or possibly store manager. Each role is within such organisation places great emphasis on the roles and labels they hold.
  5. What is the most skillful way of speaking up in order to be heard? The article describes speaking up as a political act, and describes organisations as been soaked by “power and power politics”. The advantage of being a pharmacist is that as long as your act is inline with the professional code of practice and is focused on patient care you have a reason to speak-up. The article also suggests that to amplify the chance of being listened to you must know what you are saying, when, and to whom to speak-up.


The reality is as highlighted by the article there is no-one-size fits all solution and this is conundrum that requires skill and thorough consideration.

Please share your thoughts below in the comments section so others may benefit.

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