5 Essential Qualities for Leaders in Public Health

Public health is at the forefront of change for a healthier future for everyone. From prenatal care to fighting a pandemic, public health professionals lead efforts to help protect and promote the health of individuals, families and communities at home and abroad. To make effective change, leaders in public health require these five essential leadership skills.

1. Analyze and Apply Data to Improve Community Health

Data is critical for public health decision-making, and leaders leverage data for change. Population health initiatives use data analytics to create and improve population health management strategies. Public health incorporates historical and real-time data to forecast future events for healthcare organizations and to improve community health. For example, healthcare analytics can determine a person’s risk for chronic conditions like diabetes and help providers’ encourage adherence to care instructions to prevent readmissions.

In addition, geospatial data analysis can help identify high-risk populations such as those with poor social determinants of health (SDOHs). SDOHs include food deserts, lack of access to healthcare, limited open green space and housing or transportation issues. Armed with this information, public health professionals can develop the best solutions for that specific community. In addition, a systematic method for collecting, analyzing and using data is critical to examining the effectiveness and efficiency of a program and for continuous quality improvement.

2. Engage and Mobilize Community Stakeholders

Public health professionals must work collaboratively across sectors and communities for effective change. Stakeholders are individuals or organizations interested in or affected by an initiative or its results. Public health professionals need to be able to identify, invite and involve stakeholders to develop partnerships and effective collaborations. Often, their responsibilities are to organize and communicate with various stakeholders to assess their interests, concerns, roles and commitments to plan, implement and evaluate a program.

3. Inform, Educate and Empower the Community

To promote the well-being of all, public health professionals explore opportunities to constantly inform, educate and empower people about health issues and lifestyle choices. They may coordinate or support health education to build knowledge and shape attitudes, help inform decision-making choices and develop skills and behaviors for healthy living. Public health professionals often partner with key stakeholders within the community on these various initiatives. For example, they may help support local efforts for a health fair or cancer screening, lead efforts to improve health literacy or develop specific content in the language of the community.

Successful leadership in public health means a comprehensive communication plan and community outreach. Depending on the community, strategies may vary from media advocacy and social media posts to door hangers and public meetings. In addition, public health professionals often organize and mobilize resources to market various resources.

4. Increasing Equitable Access to Opportunities, Programs and Health Access

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted health disparities and various forms of healthcare inequality. For example, there is a clear disproportional impact of healthcare outcomes for those living in poverty and communities of color.

Growing research suggests that SDOHs have more impact on care gaps than race or ethnicity. Therefore, public health must ensure that community health focuses on a holistic approach, including SDOHs. Serving a community may focus on the five domains of SDOH concerns identified by Healthy People 2030: economic stability, the neighborhood and physical environment, access to quality education, healthcare and community support systems.

Public health professionals are knowledgeable about SDOHs and in a pivotal position to improve health, functioning and quality of life. Their responsibilities often include examining access to healthcare due to insurance, inability to pay, transportation, caregiver availability and support or comprehension due to low health literacy or language barrier.

5. Communicating Effectively With Individuals, Groups and Organizations

Effective communication is critical for all professionals, especially those working in public health. Communication is the backbone of public health, as professionals communicate with large groups regarding a potential health threat or relay information to a smaller group to prevent or manage health. In addition, many leaders work with underserved populations with potential language barriers, limited education or low health literacy that create communication challenges.

Regardless of role or position, communication is key to gathering information, planning and executing public health changes. Public health professionals, especially leaders, must use active listening skills to learn community needs and concerns and relay that information to co-workers and critical stakeholders. Clear, concise messaging helps them gain the community’s trust and motivate people to change. In addition, all public health messaging needs to strive for inclusivity and diversity that appeals to a specific population.

These five leadership skills are just some public health leaders’ traits, qualities and characteristics. Strong leadership skills will help advance and safeguard health and wellness for all. In addition, they are imperative to collaborative efforts that target the roots of disparities and implement strategies to advance health equity.

An online Master of Public Health (MPH) program from William Paterson University provides the tools and skills needed for effective planning and leadership roles. The curriculum includes a specific Public Health Leadership course to help students develop their leadership and ethical decision-making skills. Students can build leadership skills with topics such as leadership, cultural competency, public health ethics, developing collaborations, communication skills and planning, managing and completing complex projects.

Learn more about William Paterson University’s online Master of Public Health program.



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