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Leadership Training and the Problems of Competency Development

Reid, W. Michael PhD, MBA; Dold, Claudia Jennifer MBA, MT, MLIS

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: January/February 2017 - Volume 23 - Issue 1 - p 73–80
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000456
Research Articles

Context: An important workforce development effort during the past 25 years has been developing competency sets. Several of the sets rely on the concepts of Senge's Learning Organization and Burns' Transformational Leadership. The authors' experiences and study in designing and implementing a curriculum for a public health leadership institute based on these concepts raised several important questions about competency development and application.

Objectives: To summarize the use of the Senge and Burns frameworks in several competency sets and the practice literature and to assess the status of competency development for those frameworks and for competency development generally.

Design: The authors reviewed several commonly used competency sets and textbooks and searched 3 leading public health practice journals (Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, Public Health Reports, and American Journal of Public Health) for Senge and Burns framework terms. They also reviewed efforts to implement competency sets in public health education and practice.

Main Outcome Measures: (1) The extent to which the articles and texts demonstrated understanding of the frameworks and reported their implementation and (2) whether competency statements and their uses in the literature contained precise definitions of competencies (knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes associated with them), the standards by which competence is to be measured, and the means for measuring their attainment.

Results: Learning Organization” and “Transformational Leadership” terms were used often and viewed favorably. However, the terms were rarely defined as Senge and Burns had, the uses generally did not indicate the complexity and difficulty of implementation, and there was only one report of even partial implementation. The review of competency development efforts found there is virtually no attention to the definitional and measurement issues in the literature.

Conclusion: Unless public health organizations recognize the need for a common understanding of competencies and how to measure their attainment and act on that understanding, it will be impossible to say with confidence that there is agreement on which individuals are competent, whether public health agencies have competent personnel, or that the public health workforce itself is competent.

Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Tampa (Dr Reid); and Florida Mental Health Institute Research Library, University of South Florida, Tampa (Ms Dold).

Correspondence: W. Michael Reid, PhD, MBA, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida 33612 (

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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