Leadership Public Health


  • Definition of leadership
  • What is leadership in public health
  • Difference between Management and leadership
  • Discuss issues/trends related to Healthcare that make Leadership in public health significant (to address and keep up with the trends in healthcare)
  • Government’s role
  • Digital divide in the system (ex. Electronic health records)
  • Political & social functions
  • Budget (optional)- but since we covered this topic this past week- discretionary budget process covers the public health costs, which is very minimal
  • Qualities of what makes a leader
  • Conclusion




Leadership skills are different from management skills. While the two are equally important for the success of public health organization, they are different in terms of roles and abilities. Managers are placed in power, whereas leaders are given power by their followers. Leaders also inspire their followers as well the local and national community he/she serves. Recent events have caused public health leaders to take on new roles.


The topic of leadership is one that has been studied and researched for years. Professionals and managers desire it and companies and organizations seek it from their employees. The coveted skill is wanted by all, but possessed by few. What is considered a good leader, or a great leader, is even harder to come by. And the field of public health—a field that changes constantly and evolves quicker than health officials can keep up with—demands great leadership.

A good public health leader is defined in many ways and by many skills. It can be argued that any manager can be leader, but the literature and research prove otherwise. There are certain skill-sets that set a good leader apart from the manager. Being knowledgeable in several areas relating public health and management is integral for the success of the public health leader and the organization he/she serves. Equally important are having the personal qualities expected of a leader and being perceived as a leader by the supporting staff. Combining these attributes along with management skills ensures that a leader is prepared for and ahead of the public health curve.

Management versus Leadership

Being a great leader is demanding, but even more so, is being a good public health leader. Public health is different from other fields because the work itself is always evolving. The target audience, the methods, and the promotional plans are always changing. Managing these tasks is not enough, especially when dealing with an audience that often does not want the information. Work can become redundant and employees and quickly lose interest, stamina, and sense of purpose. This is where a great leader can emerge.

One of the key differences in leadership and management is the ability to inspire. Almost anyone can manage or run a task if proper instruction is received. Everything from distributing the work, creating work plans, and managing the budget can be done by a manager. But leaders can inspire people and create a single vision. When staff is truly motivated, the end result is a much better product that involved a united team (Cooper, 1990).

In fact, if given a choice, people “would rather follow a leader than a manager” (McLean, 2005). This notes a clear distinction in favor of the leader, as noted by staff. Ideally, a manager can be a great leader, and some may argue that leadership is one of the roles played by a manager. However, McLean makes another distinction in the leader, suggesting that the leader “is conferred power from followers that allow him/her to influence their actions” (2005). This means that the leader is given power by those following him, versus the manager who is appointed to the manager role. This power comes with the ability to influence followers and have an effect on their outcome(Peter, 2001).

While there are clear differences between management and leadership, it is impossible to say that a successful organization could still exist without the two of them working simultaneously. After all, the above assumes that a great leader can be a great manager. However, great leadership does not come automatically with great management skills. Each role requires a different skill set. Managers are essential to a public health organization for their attention to detail and ability to follow orders and complete tasks in a timely and efficient manner. Leaders are then essential for the motivation and inspiration of supporting staff. As McLeans wraps it up, “both are essential and both have their place – they just have different emphases” (2005).

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Definition of a Public Health Leader

Other than the ability to inspire, the leader is defined by several other abilities. The leader is also influential, and has the ability to attract followers and have them transmit their goal and vision to new potential followers. This is especially important when working with large public health firms and organizations. It is nearly impossible for the leader to individually reach every single person and inspire them directly. Leaders thus depend on followers to inspire others as well. This is where the next definition of a leader is introduced; the ability to be a great mentor as well.

Mentoring is a great way to mold someone and teach them the importance of leadership in public health. Novick et al. describe leadership mentoring as “experience, by the work of insight, by personal growth, and by learning from mentors” (2008, pg. 292). While some may argue that great leaders are born, many great leaders can emerge from the situation they are presented. Gaining experience and learning by following a leader’s example are a great way in which new leaders can emerge and benefit by seeing a good leader act before it is their turn to. Thus leadership also involves the skill of making leaders out of others.

The public health field also demands that its leaders be influential outside of the organization it immediately serves. One of the most important tasks in public health is the ability to influence your local community and national niche organizations that share similar goals and objectives. This means that a leader in public health must possess the competency of building and keeping ongoing relationships with community organizations (Saleh et al. 2004, pg. 1247). Forming successful partnerships helps an organization reach its goal faster and more efficiently. For this reason, it is imperative that the public health leader be in tune with the goals of its organization in order to partner with the right organizations.

At the same time, public health leaders need to be aware of the larger picture. Public health is so grand and it becomes impossible for a leader to be great in every aspect of the field. According to the American Public Health Association, being aware of the larger picture is recognizing one’s role in public health, or rather taking “ownership of one’s particular job and having the creativity to do it (2000, pg. 11). This also involves setting appropriate priorities based on the current needs of the organizations. This involves looking at the larger picture, assessing which goals are most important to the future of the organization, and setting priorities to accomplish these goals.

Leadership also requires the ability to react to new sudden needs of the public health organization. Clear examples of these are the events of September 11, 2001. These events left public health officials dumbfounded. Almost immediately, officials became aware of how little they were prepared for such a disaster. Leaders were forced to think and react quickly, and soon after there was a surge of new educational opportunities related to emergency preparedness. The same leaders learned to be “more effective in responding to ever-changing public health challenges” (Saleh et al. 2004, pg. 1246).

The role of an effective leader is clearly not easy. While a leader main’s role is to inspire a vision and work in others, leaders must also possess a variety or related skills. Therefore, the definition of a public health leader includes the ability to mentor and produce new effective leaders and serve as a leader in both the local and national communities with a same vision. Leaders must also be able to see the grand picture and set timely and relevant priorities, as well as think and react to sudden public health needs( Donald, 1991).

Current Trends in Public Health Leadership

Using the example of September 11, 2001, it became obvious to officials that there were clear gaps in the system and that current leaders did not all possess the adequate skills for such a disaster. Programs emerged to educate public health leaders about bioterrorism, crises response, and disaster management (Burrell, 2007, pg. 62). These subjects fall outside of the comfort zone for many public health leaders, since much of public health falls within the field of heath, nutrition, environmental health, physical and emotional well-being, and disease prevention.

The goal of these programs is to provide formal training in areas that are critical. In fact, several accredited universities have made this effort easier by providing programs relating to homeland security, terrorism, emergency preparedness and related disciplines. Burrell states that such programs help address the “threats [that] have created a need for all public managers to expand their knowledge and develop new skills” (2007, pg. 63). Several universities, particularly those in the DC area, are now making it easier for public health leaders to receive training in these areas.

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Qualities of what makes a leader


By carrying out preventive medicine and communicable disease control, occupational health, food safety, and disaster response programs a good public health leader exercises a sense of responsibility. This is a good attribute of a public health leader who is able to relate well to the ground in respect to the above issues. By carrying out all the assigned duties and disseminating to the relevant staff within a public officer fulfill all the doubtful acts that responsibility is not being undertaken. The work of a public health leader ranges from various areas and in order to fulfill the required fields he or she had to assign various duties to his colleges. Without a good sense of responsibility, effective work performance will not be put in place which might end up putting the public at risk since poor service deliver y will be delivered .therefore a good public health leader should be one who is able to exercise effective responsibility in a senses that they are able to be judged according to how dissemination of what has been assigned to the m has occurred. A well established focused and self defined health leader should be able to establishes and maintain contact with medical treatment facility and local public health agencies to ensure an integrated public health program flows between all the sectors. The medical sector .without a continuous flow of events service delivery will be impossible which requires that a public health officer should resolve to having good communication skill that enable effective passage of information from one section to another.


As a public health leader, one must emulate courage in order to be decisive person. A good public health leader ought not to be afraid of failure since without this, he or she will not be able to function as a leader. One should have the courage to maintain their convictions or go with a gut instinct. A good public health leader should always admit that a mistake has been committed without hesitation showing how brave one is in the tackling of the environment.


This attribute will be able to ensure that a public health leader lays down corrective mechanism that are able to ascertain aspect which show that he or she is capable of undertaken the task in hand. This will involve showing of skill knowledge and the aptitude by the leader. A well focused skilled leader in the public health sector carries out all the necessary task making his or her colleges follow due to extra ordinary character that he or she will display in managing a given scenario. The matters that concern health are the most complex tasks that a leader might handle since this are real life situation that unless taken seriously into consideration, loss of life might occur. Therefore the leader should be able to tackle the hardest thing that surrounds the immediate environment since he or she has the necessary skill available. The skills can range from practical, mental and technical skills. A good public health leader should emulate good advisory skill which bears in mind on how advises will be given out on military public health issues, manning, and training. This is a fundamental aspect that requires great attention. Advising on critical issues requires that one has good counseling skill that enable him or her put into practice what is needed.


In the sense that even when carrying out various developments he or she will be able to initiates, nonstop and conduct preventive medicine and communicable disease control programs .being influential requires that one will be able to disseminate all that is required to all the colleges therefore boosting the morale of what is being done. Patience gives clear characteristics of a public health officer who will, be able to clarify all that is needed before acting upon them. For example when the employees are unable to clearly clarify or understand what is being talked about, the public health leader ought to verify it in details and make sure that all the tasks assigned to the are done according to the intended purposes. A good public health leader should embrace loyalty in that he or she should be able to perform mutually to the colleges what seems desirable by all since unless this is emulated ,the same will be fall him making progression in this sector top reduce by a large margin (Swayne E. 2001).


Having such attributes a public health leader will be able to change from one aspect to the other successfully ensuring that effective measures are put in place to minimize lost efforts. With these qualities a public health leader will be able to adapt to the immediate environment when fluctuations arise .this in reality entails a leader who has the intellectual capabilities of focusing on the prediction of what is to occur. Take an example where an outbreak of a specific epidemic occurs, flexibility of this situation will be determined by the leader. Being resilient will enable the leader to ensure that failure is an opportunity to expand to the real life scenario without fearing what might succumb to them but tackling it with ease with resilience, public health leaders should consider every failure as a step closer to the realization of their dreams.

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A leader has to lay down good examples to others, taking a role model position .All the people working around and staff members would like to emulate what they see that is positive and that doing this is the person in charge of their affairs. Public health officers should bear this quality such that what is perceived by them to be a right perspective still remains to be so by the other team players. By being a role model the public health officer embraces a sense of confidence which also is gained by the other team players and with this service delivery in highly enhanced. Tackling some issue in the public health sector requires great confidence in the interest of the public sefty.Take a case where gaseous poisonous substances have spilled in the air, the public health sector will have to make appropriate action in the determination of the root cause of this phenomena. To an ordinary person without skills, training and confidence, doing this task will be a great risk to life, however if one is trained, the confidence usually inspired by the trainer who in this case is the leader of the public health sector keeps them going.


A good public health leader should instigate buoyancy in others and be persistent in a crisis. Though this sector is a tough one to tackle leaders her should embrace one another and come together to solve the relevant problems that exist within the locality. Good listening skill should be developed since communication is a two way traffic, therefore leaders should try as much as possible to be good listeners. In the course of coming up with new ways and means of communicating a smooth flow of events will prevail therefore saving on other irrelevant costs that might occur. Management and leadership should go hand in hand in that though leaders are people are followed by other people through their own choice and managers have to be obeyed; these two disparities have to be merged in order to come up with a formidable action plane that will be able to facilitate smooth flow of events The public health leader has to have the capacity of embracing new talent and nature it. Sincerity and reliability are particularly significant for any good leader embracing realistic goals. By setting goals a good public health leader will be setting avenues that lead to the attainment of the goals. This targets when attained should be credible to the participants who took part in the achieving of results unlike praising the leader. The public health sector being the toughest areas to tackle should be reformed such that there is always the division of labor. This will enhance inventions and innovations which will give out the definition of development through the total commitment and support from the whole team.


Cooper, T. (1990). The Responsible Administrator. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Donald, S (1991). “Innovative Organizations Require Innovative Managers.” Public Administration Review. 41:5, 507-513.

Peter, N. (2001). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage.

Swayne E. (2001). Leadership and Management, Public Health: Cases and Context, by Sage Publications

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