Malawi Medical Journal

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“PHC Leadership: Are Health Centres in Good Hands?Perspectives from 3 districts in Malawi”

J Hana, K Maleta, R Kirkhaug, T Hasvold


The study aimed to document the kinds of leadership styles are practiced at health centres (H/C) and how these styles can be explained by the contexts, characteristics of the health centre in charge (IC) and subordinate trained health staff (STHS).
A well-researched leadership style model was applied, which included task, relation and change styles. This is a cross-sectional study using self-administered questionnaires in 47 H/C in 3 districts. 347 STHSs (95%) and 46 ICs (98%) responded. Questions explored background data and perceived leadership behaviour. Style items were factor analysed, and bivariate analyses and hierarchical regressions determined how styles could be explained.
Two leadership styles were revealed: “Trans”style contained all relation and the majority of task and change items; “Control” style focused on health statistics (Health Management Information System), reporting and evaluation. STHS and IC had a median age/median work experience of 34/5 years and 38,5/2 years, respectively. 48% of IC reported having no management training. CHAM H/Cs had the lowest score on “Control” style. Distance to referral hospital had no impact on style scores. No contexts or STHS characteristics predicted any leadership styles. For ICs, young age and increasing work experience were significant predictors for both styles, while Nurse ICs were negative predictors for “Control style”. Management training was not a significant predictor for any style.
Frontline PHC leadership may be forced by situation and context to use a comprehensive style which could lack the diversity and flexibility needed for effective leadership. The missing associations between staff characteristics and leadership styles might indicate that this group is not sufficiently considered and included in leadership processes in the PHC organization. Leadership competency for the ICs seems not to be based on formal training, but substituted by young age and work experience. Health centre organization could also influence the options for leadership behaviour. In conclusion this calls for a reassessment of H/C leadership and formal leadership training.

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