The role of leadership in people-centred health systems: a sub-national study in The Gambia

Simukai Chigudu, Momodou Jasseh, Umberto d'Alessandro, Tumani Corrah, Adama Demba, Julie Balen

    Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


    Recently, increasing attention has been given to behavioural and relational aspects of the people who both define and shape health systems, placing them at the core. A growing refrain includes the assertion that important decisions determining health system performance, including agenda setting, policy formulation and policy implementation, are made by people. Within this actor-oriented approach, good leadership has been identified as a key contributing factor in health systems strengthening. However, leadership remains ill-defined and under-researched, especially in resource-limited settings, and understanding the links between leadership and health outcomes remains a challenge. We explore the concept and practice of healthcare leadership at sub-national level in a low-income country setting, using a people-centric research methodology. In June and July 2013, 15 in-depth interviews were conducted with key informants in formal healthcare leadership roles across urban, peri-urban and rural settings of The Gambia, West Africa. Participants included the entire spectrum of Regional Health Team (RHT) Directors and Chief Executive Officers of all government hospitals, as well as one clinical officer-in-charge in a secondary-level major health centre. We found reference to several important aspects of, and approaches to, leadership, including (i) setting a clear vision; (ii) engendering shared leadership; and (iii) paying attention to human relations in management. Participants described attending to constituencies in government, international development agencies and civil society, as well as to the populations they serve. By illuminating the multi-polar networks within which these leaders are embedded, and through which they operate, we provide insight into the complex 'organizational ecology' of the Gambian health system. There is a need to further research and develop healthcare leadership across all levels, within various political, socio-economic and cultural contexts, in order to better work with a range of health actors and to engage them in identifying and acting upon opportunities for health systems strengthening.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalHealth Policy and Planning
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)E14-E25
    Number of pages12
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


    • Context
    • health systems
    • leadership
    • people
    • The Gambia
    • CARE


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