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Interpersonal influence among public health leaders in the United States Department of Health and Human Services

Jenine K. Harris, Bobbi J. Carothers, Lana M. Wald, Sarah C. Shelton, Scott J. Leischow
  • Jenine K. Harris
    Washington University in St. Louis, United States | harrisj@wustl.edu
  • Bobbi J. Carothers
    Washington University in St. Louis, United States
  • Lana M. Wald
    Washington University in St. Louis, United States
  • Sarah C. Shelton
    Washington University in St. Louis, United States
  • Scott J. Leischow
    Arizona Cancer Center, United States

Abstract

Background. In public health, interpersonal influence has been identified as an important factor in the spread of health information, and in understanding and changing health behaviors. However, little is known about influence in public health leadership. Influence is important in leadership settings, where public health professionals contribute to national policy and practice agendas. Drawing on social theory and recent advances in statistical network modeling, we examined influence in a network of tobacco control leaders at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Design and Methods. Fifty-four tobacco control leaders across all 11 agencies in the DHHS were identified; 49 (91%) responded to a web-based survey. Participants were asked about communication with other tobacco control leaders, who influenced their work, and general job characteristics. Exponential random graph modeling was used to develop a network model of influence accounting for characteristics of individuals, their relationships, and global network structures. Results. Higher job ranks, more experience in tobacco control, and more time devoted to tobacco control each week increased the likelihood of influence nomination, as did more frequent communication between network members. Being in the same agency and working the same number of hours per week were positively associated with mutual influence nominations. Controlling for these characteristics, the network also exhibited patterns associated with influential clusters of network members. Conclusions. Findings from this unique study provide a perspective on influence within a government agency that both helps to understand decision-making and also can serve to inform organizational efforts that allow for more effective structuring of leadership.

Keywords

influence, exponential random graph modeling, leadership, network

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Submitted: 2011-11-01 20:02:26
Published: 2012-02-14 15:12:07
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Copyright (c) 2012 Jenine K. Harris, Bobbi J. Carothers, Lana M. Wald, Sarah C. Shelton, Scott J. Leischow

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