Public health is a vast and complex discipline characterised by constant change and reforms, comprising multiple stakeholders and personnel at different levels working together for better health service delivery. To govern such a complicated system, leadership is fundamental to eventuate true public health i.e. to prevent disease, promote health and prolong life through organized community efforts (Srivastava and Kunwar, 2018). The existence of proficient leaders is pivotal for dealing with unanticipated public health challenges through the proper management of increasing demands, with restricted resources. According to Anand Krishnan (2018), public health leadership includes the effective mobilization of individuals, communities, and organizations to deal with public health issues. He emphasizes that leadership is not an inborn trait but is a learnable quality that anyone can gain. Although public health leadership is the key element for the success of an organization, it is not necessary that all public health leaders bring positive consequences. There is often the case when leaders are unable to meet the organizational goals resulting in the failure of the public health program. This usually depends upon the leaders and the followers of that organization and their way of working toward the common goals.
While I was in Nepal, after the completion of my bachelor’s in public health I got numerous opportunities to be involved in quite a few public health organizations as an intern or an employee. During that period, I worked with several prominent public health professionals and some great leaders. Likewise, I also witnessed some ill-equipped leaders, who hampered the project and organization’s resources in a negative way. Now, the question here is, why some leaders succeed, and others fail to meet the organizational need and what impact it has on public health. Well, in my view the leader is expected to be a person with a clear vision, who is proficient in making health decisions and also motivating team members through effective communication and application of appropriate leadership approach (Srivastava and Kunwar, 2018). Almost all public health organizations have their goal and objectives, the organization where I was working was mainly focused on combating communicable diseases. The leader of our organization, she was experienced and professional, who used to involve all subordinates in the decision-making process considering the strength and weakness of each employee. Although she never allowed us to take any decision by ourselves, she always tried to consider our ideas while making her final decision. Her positive attitude toward her employees always motivated me and other staff to give their best for the success of the organization. For me, she was an ideal leader, who has the potential to motivate and drive the followers and build a strong relationship with them to work towards common goals through joint participation. The cognitive thinking and charismatic traits of our leader didn’t only assist in achieving the overall goal of the project but also emerging as one of the successful projects of that particular year nationwide through maintaining staff job’s satisfaction and coordination and collaboration among all. Moreover, in the broader context, this effective public health leadership had an extensive impact on general welfare. For example, an adequate health education program on tuberculosis could result in early diagnosis and treatment of a person. This would not only protect him but also his family as well as the whole community from that infectious disease and hazard associated with it including mental stress and economic issues, ultimately contributing towards a healthier community.
This sort of appropriate leadership generates an organizational culture that is devoted to quality, minimizing conflicts, upgrading competency and productivity of the group, reinforcing the staff’s satisfaction and eventually fulfilling personal and institutional goals (Ghiasipour, M., Mosadeghrad, A. M., Arab, M., & Jaafaripooyan, E., 2017). This is just one instance, there are several other positive impacts of public health leadership which has assisted the people to meet their health needs such as reduction in the child as well as maternal mortality, increase in life expectancy, Malaria prevention and control, healthy public policy formulation (antitobacco policy), access to safe and clean drinking water, vaccine-preventable disease, reducing health inequality and many more.
At the same time, poor public health leadership could also lead to the failure of an organization. Through my experience, I believe that a leader’s inability to incentivize its team effectively, inadequate utilization of limited resources and poor employees satisfaction, lack of ownership and commitment among the leader and staff increases the likelihood of decreased efficiency and effectiveness as well as increased organizational cost and displeasure among staff, causing poor health service delivery and the fall down of public health goals (Ghiasipour, M., Mosadeghrad, A. M., Arab, M., & Jaafaripooyan, E., 2017). In my view, to enhance the positive influence of public health leadership, leaders need to understand that although they act at the local level, they need to think globally considering other parts of the world. Moreover, leaders should be more focused on long term solutions rather than a quick adjustment to complex public health challenges along with effective investment in individual and followers.
In the public health sector, there is rarely the case when the health practitioners are appreciated for their good deed. Whereas, during outbreaks or health system failures, they are often criticized for not being proactive and handling the issue effectively. It is important to understand that public health being a complicated sector is not easy for a single authority to resolve such enormous issues. Rather, for sustainable solutions, it would require changes at the community level, efforts from both health practitioners and legal advisors, economists, policymakers, government agencies, local leaders and many more. Only a person who accepts the problem as a mission, with great communication and convincing command accompanied with the trait of versatility, flexibility and stability, and the capability to guide and inspire the team effectively during public health emergencies through effective intersectoral coordination and collaboration, is the true public health leader. (Srivastava and Kunwar, 2018)
Ghiasipour, M., Mosadeghrad, A. M., Arab, M., & Jaafaripooyan, E. (2017). Leadership challenges in health care organizations: The case of Iranian hospitals. Medical journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 31, 96.
Krishnan, A. (2018). Public Health leadership in India: Reflection from my journey. Indian J Public Health, 62(3),171–4
Srivastava, V. & Kunwar, R. (2018). Leadership in public health. Indian Journal of Public Health, 62(3), 165–166.