Show Navigation

Resource Library

Public health leadership for action on health equity: A literature review

Cette ressource est aussi disponible en français.

This document is part of the 'Leadership for Health Equity' Series

In 2016, Dr. Claire Betker completed a scoping review and metasummary on public health leadership for action on health equity as a PhD dissertation research project. The dissertation included a comprehensive literature review, which revealed that there is very little theoretical and empirical literature examining public health leadership to take action on health inequities. The lack of literature makes the definition, development and support of leadership in this area very challenging.

This summary highlights key concepts from the general leadership literature that are transferrable to public health action on health equity, including:

  • elements and theories of leadership;
  • distinguishing followers and leaders;
  • differentiating leadership and management; and
  • considering leadership at multiple levels of the health system.

Key learnings from the literature are explored, such as the empowerment of leaders at multiple levels, relational aspects of leadership, the use of data to demonstrate inequities and the interdependence of leaders and followers. Research gaps and areas for further development highlight opportunities to enrich the field of public health leadership to address inequities.

Use this resource to

  • discuss the relationship between management and leadership, and between leaders and followers;
  • explore opportunities to develop leadership knowledge and skills at multiple levels of the public health system;
  • identify research projects that consider elements of public health leadership that specifically aim to advance health equity; and
  • consider leadership development within the community, organizations and civil society in partnership with public health.


Also in this series:



Related resources

What contributes to successful public health leadership for health equity? An appreciative inquiry (2013)

Public Health Speaks: Public health leadership for health equity (2015)


Betker, RC and the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (2018). Public health leadership for action on health equity: A literature review. Antigonish, NS: National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, St. Francis Xavier University.

Tags: Leadership & capacity building, Document, Report / Document, Leadership for Health Equity