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Interventions to strengthen the leadership capabilities of health professionals in Sub-Saharan Africa: a scoping review

  • Johnson, Oliver1, 2
  • Begg, Kerrin3
  • Kelly, Ann H4
  • Sevdalis, Nick1
  • 1 Centre for Implementation Science, Health Services and Population Research Department, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, UK , (United Kingdom)
  • 2 Centre for Health Policy, School of Public Health, School of Public Health Building. University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa , (South Africa)
  • 3 School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa , (South Africa)
  • 4 Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, School of Global Affairs, Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy, King’s College London, UK , (United Kingdom)
Published Article
Health Policy and Planning
Oxford University Press
Publication Date
Dec 13, 2020
DOI: 10.1093/heapol/czaa078
PMID: 33313871
PMCID: PMC7938510
PubMed Central


Leadership is a critical component of a health system and may be particularly important in Sub-Saharan Africa, where clinicians take on significant management responsibilities. However, there has been little investment in strengthening leadership in this context, and evidence is limited on what leadership capabilities are most important or how effective different leadership development models are. This scoping review design used Arksey and O’Malley’s approach of identifying the question and relevant studies, selection, charting of data, summarizing of results and consultation. A comprehensive search strategy was used that included published and unpublished primary studies and reviews. Seven databases were searched, and papers written in English and French between 1979 and 2019 were included. Potential sources were screened against inclusion and exclusion criteria. Data were grouped into common categories and summarized in tables; categories included conceptual approach to leadership; design of intervention; evaluation method; evidence of effectiveness; and implementation lessons. The findings were then analysed in the context of the review question and objectives. Twenty-eight studies were included in the review out of a total of 495 that were initially identified. The studies covered 23 of the 46 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The leadership development programmes (LDPs) described were diverse in their design. No consistency was found in the conceptual approaches they adopted. The evaluation methods were also heterogeneous and often of poor quality. The review showed how rapidly leadership has emerged as a topic of interest in health care in Sub-Saharan Africa. Further research on this subject is needed, in particular in strengthening the conceptual and competency frameworks for leadership in this context, which would also inform better evaluation. Our findings support the need for LDPs to be accredited, better integrated into existing systems and to put greater emphasis on institutionalization and financial sustainability from their early development.

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