Understanding the Political Skills and Behaviours for Leading the Implementation of Health Services Change: A Qualitative Interview Study

Waring, Justin; Bishop, Simon; Black, Georgia; Clarke, Jenelle M.; Exworthy, Mark; Fulop, Naomi J.; Hartley, Jean; Ramsay, Angus and Roe, Bridget (2022). Understanding the Political Skills and Behaviours for Leading the Implementation of Health Services Change: A Qualitative Interview Study. International Journal of Health Policy and Management (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.34172/ijhpm.2022.6564

Abstract

Background: The implementation of change in health and care services is often complicated by organisational micro-politics. There are calls for those leading change to develop and utilise political skills and behaviours to understand and mediate such politics, but to date only limited research offers a developed empirical conceptualisation of the political skills and behaviours for leading health services change.

Methods: A qualitative interview study was undertaken with 66 healthcare leaders from the English National Health Service (NHS). Participants were sampled on the basis of their variable involvement in leading change processes, taking into account anticipated differences in career stage, leadership level and role, care sector, and professional backgrounds. Interpretative data analysis led to the development of five themes.

Results: Participants’ accounts highlighted five overarching sets of political skills and behaviours: personal and inter-personal qualities relating to self-belief, resilience and the ability to adapt to different audiences; strategic thinking relating to the ability to understand the wider and local political landscape from which to develop realistic plans for change; communication skills for engaging and influencing stakeholders, especially for understanding and mediating stakeholders’ competing interests; networks and networking in terms of access to resources, and building connections between stakeholders; and relational tactics for dealing with difficult individuals through more direct forms of negotiation and persuasion.

Conclusion: The study offers further empirical insight the existing literature on healthcare organisational politics by describing and conceptualising the political skills and behaviours of implementing health services change.

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