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Public Health Managers: Ambassadors, Coordinators, Scouts, or Guards?

Graham, Ross MSc, CHE; McCann, Melissa MSW; Allen, Natalie PhD

Journal of Public Health Management & Practice: November/December 2013 - Volume 19 - Issue 6 - p 562–568
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3182902384
Original Articles

Context: Middle managers are increasingly required to work with, and between, many groups within an organization. This work is known as “boundary spanning,” and it has been shown to support information flow throughout the organization. This work has also been reported to assist with the coordination of tasks that require contributions from multiple groups. However, to our knowledge, boundary spanning has never been studied in a public health setting.

Objective: To conduct an exploratory study of public health managers' perspectives regarding the frequency with which they engage in boundary-spanning behaviors and the importance of these behaviors in their role.

Design: A mixed-methods approach, involving focus group discussion and independent surveys, was used to capture both qualitative and quantitative data.

Participants: Fourteen administrative and team public health managers.

Setting: An urban-rural public health unit in Ontario, Canada.

Results: Many boundary-spanning behaviors were reported to be frequently practiced, and most of the behaviors were identified by the participants as important to their role. Further analysis indicated that the participants' more frequently engaged in the ambassador, coordinator, and scout categories of boundary spanning than behaviors in the guard category.

Conclusion: Although only examined with a small sample, boundary spanning appears to be an essential function for public health managers (similar to their colleagues in the private sector). These findings present a rationale and an opportunity for public health leaders to set organizational conditions that foster the most positive type of boundary-spanning, ambassadorial behaviors, which, in turn, can improve group performance.

This article is an exploratory study of public health managers' perspectives regarding the frequency with which they engage in boundary-spanning behaviors and the importance of these behaviors in their role. Results suggest that boundary-spanning behaviors are related to team performance.

Middlesex-London Health Unit (Mr Graham and Ms McCann); and TeamWork Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario (Dr Allen), London, Ontario, Canada.

Correspondence: Ross Graham, MSc CHE, Middlesex-London Health Unit, 50 King St, London, ON N6A 5L7, Canada (ross.graham@mlhu.on.ca).

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2013 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.