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The Definition of Public Health Leadership


Public health leadership, just like leadership in any other field is based on such concepts as an influence, the situation, and the followers, and is based on the correlations between these factors (Vroom & Jago, 2007; Nahavandi, 2014). At the same time, Koh (2009) defines the leader in the field of public health as a “servant leader” whose primary duties are to unite the people pursuing the same goals creating communities with common hopes and purposes. Since leading is a complex process, a leader is to possess such qualities as flexibility, responsiveness, ability to direct. I would define leadership as the process of guiding and directing a group of individuals struggling for common goals through the constant interactions with them and the ability to address and adjust to various situations. The leader is to be far-sighted and plan the long-term actions thinking of the outcomes that are on the horizon and applying systems thinking (Murray, 2011). I define systems thinking as the multidimensional organization of various processes and operations to achieve a common goal.

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How Public Health Leadership is Different from Public Health Management

Discussing leaders one must not confuse them with the managers. These two roles are rather different as the former participate in the situations personally, and the latter remain distant and pursue goals due to a necessity but not passion (Zaleznick, 2004). Besides, managers work with the subordinates whom they are to control from the position of authority, whereas the leaders have followers whom they influence with the help of charisma (Changing Minds, 2011). While the skills of management can be learned, leadership skills are more complex and require devotion and practice, managers employ transactional authority, and the leaders often use transformational style (Coach 4 Growth, 2011; Kotter, 1990). Even though management and leadership are quite different these concepts are linked and complement each other, whereas the leader is the developer; the manager is the one who maintains (Murray, 2011). The function of the manager is directed at the support of the organizational structure and system, and the leader majorly interacts with people. For example, in public health, the managers are to maintain the operations within the organizations. A chief nurse is a manager in charge of the nurses within one hospital. The leader would be focused on the relationships of their organization with the other ones. That would be a more global task for a nursing professional leading the nurses of various workplaces towards a common professional goal.

How Systems Thinking Applies to the Definition of Leadership

Systems thinking deals with the complex interactions within a group of structures and is based on the connection between several different fields and are interdisciplinary (Trochim, Cabrera, Milstein, Gallagher, & Leischow, 2006; Leischow & Milstein, 2006). In public health, systems thinking can be applied to a variety of problems. One of them is disease prevention. To prevent infectious illnesses from penetrating a particular country or spreading there a collaborative effort of many systems is required, among them, there are the laboratory analysis sector, the epidemiologic control, statistic data collectors, the pharmaceutical groups working on the cures, health literacy promoters educating the communities at risk to name a few. A leader’s role is to connect all of these systems and to enforce harmonious cooperation.


In conclusion, leadership is a complex concept that is based on such factors as the leader, the followers, and the influence. A leader’s role is multidimensional and is not to be confused with the role of a manager that is also related to responsibilities but is different by nature. Compared to the role of a leader, a manager’s occupations are more local.

Reference List

Changing Minds. (2011). Leadership vs. management. Web.

Coach 4 Growth. (2011). Leadership vs. management: What are the characteristics of a leader and a manager? Web.

Koh, H. K. (2009). Leadership in public health. Journal of Cancer Education, 24(Supp. 2), S11–S18.

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Kotter, J. P. (1990). A force for change: How leadership differs from management. New York, NY: Free Press.

Leischow, S. J., & Milstein, B. (2006). Systems thinking and modeling for public health practice.American Journal of Public Health, 96(3), 403–405.

Murray, A. (2011). What is the difference between management and leadership? Web.

Nahavandi, A. (2014). The art and science of leadership (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Trochim, W. M., Cabrera, D.A., Milstein, B., Gallagher, R.S., & Leischow, S.J. (2006). Practical challenges of systems thinking and modeling in Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 96(3), 538–546.

Vroom, V. H., & Jago, A.G. (2007). The role of the situation in leadership. American Psychologist, 62(1), 17–24.

Zaleznick, A. (2004). Managers and leaders: Are they different? Harvard Business Review, 82(1), 74–81.

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