Great Manager Profile: Stuart Gansky

By Aja Couchois Duncan

Stuart Gansky, MS, DrPH

Editor's Note: This is the fifth profile in an occasional series to highlight UCSF's great managers as determined by scores in the 2011 employee engagement survey administered by Gallup.

With his ubiquitous smile and passion for public health, it is not surprising that Stuart Gansky, MS, DrPH, was recently selected to serve as the director of UCSF’s Center to Address Disparities in Children’s Oral Health (known as CAN DO).

“I am here to make a positive impact on people’s health,” he says. It is his life’s work.

Gansky attributes his commitment to public health to his parents’ modeling of the Golden Rule and his undergraduate experience working with the Campus Y — the center of social innovation, student engagement and social justice at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. “It [The Campus Y] awoke the social responsibility in me. We worked on hunger relief, served as big brothers/big sisters for kids without mentors, campaigned for divestment from South Africa.”

He also benefitted from working with great mentors who steered him toward public health such as Gary Koch, PhD, at UNC and Jane Weintraub, DDS, MPH, who previously ran CAN DO and has since left UCSF to take the position as dean of UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry.

This commitment to the well-being of others is also evidenced in how Gansky manages his team. “I focus on helping people identify their strengths and supporting them in their professional efforts,” he says.

“He’s there to support you. He’s also there as an example. When you work with someone who works so hard and is just so pleasant, it is hard not to want to do that yourself,” says Sarit Helman, MPH, a clinical trials specialist with the Data Coordinating Center.

Beyond modeling excellence, Gansky also coaches his team. “He holds your hand as long as he thinks you need it. Then when you don’t need it anymore, he moves away,” Helman says.

UCSF Manager Resources

A Great Manager Resource Guide outlining some strategies for setting expectations and providing feedback and recognition is available here [PDF].

A list of People Management (supervisor) courses and Personal Effectiveness classes offered by UCSF HR, Learning & Development is available here [PDF].

Connecting Work to the Larger Mission

Gansky has found that another critical element to managing a high-performance team is connecting people to the mission and vision of the organization. “It is important that everyone has buy-in. I want everyone to be able to connect their work to the mission,” he says. 

As the center’s associate director in 2011, Gansky and then-director Judith Barker, PhD, brought everyone together to revisit and refine CAN DO’s vision and mission statements. As a result of the retreat, the team was engaged and had a clear strategy for the work ahead. He says they were “in a good position to weather any bumps in the road later because all were working for the same purpose.”

Peggy Rasmussen, project manager for the Data Coordinating Center, describes the impact of Gansky’s engagement with his team. “He makes people feel that he’s interested in their feedback, opinions and ideas. This helps create an environment where more creative ideas can come up.” It is also ensures that people are comfortable pointing out errors or identifying problems. “Overall,” she says, “it improves the quality of our work.”

As a result of the team’s efforts, CAN DO has become a national coordinating center, focusing on community-based, participatory research at UCSF and the elimination of health disparities among low-income individuals and communities.

According to Elaine Cooperstein, a clinical trials specialist with the Data Coordinating Center, Gansky’s management practices have not only earned CAN DO national recognition, but also created an environment in which the team works collaboratively to move CAN DO’s projects forward. “He [Gansky] hires competent teams and then has the confidence that we are pulling in the right direction,” she says. “He has a nose for building a good team.”

Notes Gansky, “I make a point of recognizing people when they do something extraordinary or even when they achieve success with a particular milestone.” To do so, he uses Bear Hugs and the Star Program. “It’s a little thing,” he says, “but I make a point of filling out the paperwork.”

Gansky ensures his people get the training they need to do their work well. “I take advantage of local conferences to be cost effective in keeping people abreast of the cutting edge of their field,” he says. This practice is evidenced by the most recent Employee Engagement Survey, in which Gansky’s team scored one of the highest in terms of “having the opportunity to learn and grow.” 

George Taylor, DMD, MPH, DrPH, chair of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences, sees Gansky as a model of inclusion, transparency and resourcefulness. “He is very supportive and serves as an advocate [for his team] as appropriate.” Notes Taylor, “you can see members of his team taking on some of his positive characteristics, so he is creating a pipeline of new leadership.” The ingredients of Gansky’s successful people management are, according to Taylor, the extra portion of care and nurturing he provides through the provision of information, resources and opportunities. “His antenna is always on for opportunities for growth for his team.”

Professional Development for the Manager

Gansky also prioritizes his own professional development. He participated in the first year of UCSF’s Faculty Leadership Collaborative, and he is also a graduate of CTSI’s Mentor Development Program, for which he now serves as one of the program’s assistant directors.

Susan Hyde, interim division chair of Oral Epidemiology and Dental Public Health, notes that “he puts his learning into practice.” In addition, she says, “he recognizes that by encouraging people to take classes and to join professional associations, that they grow their skills.” Everyone benefits as a result.

In addition to professional development, Gansky makes sure to get regular input from others, talking to peers and his direct reports to ensure he makes the best decisions possible. He also relies on his wife, Karen, to talk through various organizational challenges. “She is a great sounding board for managerial ideas or dilemmas I face,” he says.

John Featherstone, PhD, dean of the School of Dentistry, sees Gansky as a shining example of a talented academic and manager. “His research is impeccable,” Featherstone says, “and he is highly collaborative. Beyond that, he does what the best managers do: he creates an environment where his team can thrive, where they can use their best creative skills, where they can be happy, where they feel they can contribute to the world.” Gansky supports the learning and growth of his team, and in so doing ensures the excellence of their work and its significant impact on reducing health disparities among low-income communities. “If we could, we would clone him,” Featherstone says.  

For Gansky, the prescription is simple: “Hire the best people you can find, talented, creative people; treat them the way you want to be treated; take advantage of programs and trainings that are available to support ongoing learning for yourself and your team; and finally, get out of your team’s way so they can do their jobs.”

For more information about the Great Manager Initiative, go to

Photo by Susan Merrell