Leadership Development in Public Health
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health

In the field of public health leadership relates to the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of their community and/or the organization in which they work. It involves inspiring people to craft and achieve a vision and goals. Leaders provide mentoring, coaching, and recognition. They encourage empowerment, allowing other leaders to emerge.”


What is Leadership Development in Public Health?

Public Health Leadership development refers to any activity that enhances the capability of an individual to assume leadership roles and responsibilities in Public Health. Examples include degree programs in public health management, executive education, seminars and workshops, and even internships.

These types of learning opportunities focus on developing knowledge, skills, self-awareness, and abilities needed to lead effectively. Studies have shown that public health leadership training programs are effective in improving the skills of public health workers.


Methods of Leadership Development

Leader development takes place through multiple mechanisms: formal instruction, developmental job assignments, 360-degree feedback, executive coaching, and self-directed learning. These approaches may occur independently but are more effective in combination.


Formal Training

Organizations often offer formal training programs to their leaders. Traditional styles provide leaders with required knowledge and skills in a particular area using coursework, practice, “overlearning” with rehearsals, and feedback. This traditional lecture-based classroom training is useful; however, its limitations include the question of a leader’s ability to transfer the information from a training environment to a work setting.


Developmental Job Assignment

Following formal training, organizations can assign leaders to developmental jobs that target the newly acquired skills. A job that is developmental is one in which leaders learn, undergo personal change, and gain leadership skills resulting from the roles, responsibilities, and tasks involved in that job. Developmental job assignments are one of the most effective forms of leader development. A “stretch” or developmental assignment challenges leaders’ new skills and pushes them out of their comfort zone to operate in a more complex environment, one that involves new elements, problems, and dilemmas to resolve.


360-Degree Feedback

The 360-degree feedback approach is a necessary component of leader development that allows leaders to maximize learning opportunities from their current assignment. It systematically provides leaders with perceptions of their performance from a full circle of viewpoints, including subordinates, peers, superiors, and the leader’s own self- assessment. With information coming from so many different sources, the messages may be contradictory and difficult to interpret. However, when several different sources concur on a similar perspective, whether a strength or weakness, the clarity of the message increases. For this mechanism to be effective, the leader must accept feedback and be open and willing to make changes. Coaching is an effective way to facilitate 360-degree feedback and help effect change using open discussion.



Leadership coaching focuses on enhancing the leader’s effectiveness, along with the effectiveness of the team and organization. It involves an intense, one-on-one relationship aimed at imparting important lessons through assessment, challenge, and support. Although the goal of coaching is sometimes to correct a fault, it is used more and more to help already successful leaders move to the next level of increased responsibilities and new and complex challenges. Coaching aims to move leaders toward measurable goals that contribute to individual and organizational growth.


Self-directed Learning

Using self-directed learning, individual leaders teach themselves new skills by selecting areas for development, choosing learning avenues, and identifying resources. This type of development is a self-paced process that aims not only to acquire new skills but also to gain a broader perspective on leadership responsibilities and what it takes to succeed as a leader. READ:  The 10 Qualities Of A Good Public Health Leader



Why is Leadership Development in Public Health Important

Public health is a vital specialty of community medicine which integrates public health concepts, clinical care delivery and healthcare of an individual. Public health leadership with the ability to influence and motivate people contributes toward the success of the community. Public health is an interdisciplinary field wherein the leaders mentor and coach professionals from diverse backgrounds to achieve goals at the basic community as well as a larger national and international levels. Leaders emerge due to encouragement and empowerment. The scope and reach of public health needs to focus on all factors that promote health including those related to education, economic development, logistics, food resources and environmental problems.

Leadership competency creates an ethical organizational culture and shared vision and values to inspire and motivate personnel to work effectively in understanding the impact of public health issues. Management in public health involves overseeing resources of equipment and staff, implementing and planning healthcare services along with cultivating relationships between service providers and the public. Management and Leadership skills are required in constantly changing and quickly evolving field of public health.


Barriers to leadership

  • Work situations that lead to fatigue and burnout
  • Multiple challenges in the workplace
  • Tensions from multiple sources
  • Organizational structures and culture
  • Organizational change efforts
  • Personnel issues


Enabling factors for leadership

  • Personal desire and development
  • Relationships and championship
  • Leadership is valued and supported
  • Mentorship and succession planning
  • Policy commitment
  • Full scope of practice


How to develop leadership skills?

  • Network, connect and communicate
  • Be a lifelong learner – courses, books, people
  • Show, don’t tell – be a leader outside of work
  • Find your passion – understand your motivation – be self-aware
  • Be direct – ask for feedback, coaching, mentoring
  • Step up – volunteer – grasp opportunity


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