Health promoting universities: effective leadership for health, well-being and sustainability

Dooris, Mark T orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5986-1660, Powell, Susan, Parkin, Doug and Farrier, Alan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4989-2209 (2021) Health promoting universities: effective leadership for health, well-being and sustainability. Health Education, 121 (3). pp. 295-310. ISSN 0965-4283

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This paper reports on a research study examining opportunities for and characteristics of effective leadership for whole university approaches to health, well-being and sustainability.

A multi-method qualitative approach was used: semi-structured interviews and focus groups were conducted with vice chancellors (n = 12) and UK Healthy Universities Network members (n = 10) and online questionnaires were completed by non-UK network coordinators (n = 6) and non-UK health promoting university coordinators (n = 10), supplemented with two interviews.

A total of two overarching themes emerged: opportunities to secure and sustain effective senior-level leadership and characteristics of effective senior-level leadership. Sub-themes under “Opportunities” included aligning work with core business so that health and well-being becomes a strategic priority, harnessing the personal qualities and values of senior-level advocates and using charters and policy drivers as levers to engage and catalyse action. Sub-themes under “Characteristics” included commitment to whole university/whole system working; an understanding that health underpins core business and is a strategic priority; enabling effective coordination through appropriate resourcing; balancing top-down and distributed leadership models and complementing strategic leadership with cultural change.

This study is one of the first to explore leadership in relation to health promoting universities. Drawing on the findings, it presents a guide to developing and securing effective leadership for health promoting universities – of value to researchers, practitioners and policymakers worldwide.

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