Leadership in 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 a vision to achieve goals. According to a top leadership training CEO writing for Forbes magazine, leadership is “a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal (Kruse, 2013).

The number one trait that sets a leader apart is their ability to create a shared vision (Kouzes, et al., 2009). A leader should be forward thinking and passionate about ideas, but it is in the work of learning about stakeholder interests and desires that a vision shared by everyone will form. 

Photo: by Unsplash

Unique to public health is the necessity for interdisciplinary cooperation and systems thinking. The ability to maximize the efforts of others is the focus of public health leaders. Community engagement is also a key role for a public health leader. When acting as a facilitator, a good leader can empower communities to feel ownership about a particular public health program (Dwelle, 2020). 

An effective leader in public health will need to do more than manage the technicalities and logistics of implementing a plan. Working with multiple disciplines will necessitate compromise and the ability to withstand hostility and criticism (Dwelle, 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on public health leaders who were required to quickly respond to political and community demands and criticisms alike. 

Photo: by Unsplash

Effective communication is a powerful tool for leadership. Harvard Business School lists essential communication skills to develop. Among them are active listening, asking open ended questions, and receiving feedback (Landry, 2019). Vision, empowerment, compromise-without strong communication skills, these other areas of leadership are hindered. Practice these skills in other interactions so they will come naturally when you lead.

The CDC has launched and maintains a leadership training course for public health professionals at no cost. The Public Health Learning Navigator also provides a free leadership webinar. Check with your HR department for leadership training offerings and opportunities.


Dwelle, T. L. (September, 2020). Public health and leadership introduction. North Dakota Public Health Training Network. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxa_vSoUlrA

Kouzes, J.M, Posner, J. (2009). To lead, create a shared vision. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2009/01/to-lead-create-a-shared-vision

Kruse, K. (April, 2013) What is leadership? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2013/04/09/what-is-leadership/?sh=35d843635b90
Landry, L. (November, 2019). 8 essential leadership communication skills. Harvard Business School Online Blog. https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/leadership-communication


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