In South Africa, as elsewhere, Primary Health Care (PHC) facilities are managed by professional nurses. Little is known about the dimensions and challenges of their job, or what influences their managerial practice. Drawing on leadership and organizational theory, this study explored what the job of being a PHC manager entails, and what factors influence their managerial practice. We specifically considered whether the appointment of professional nurses as facility managers leads to an identity transition, from nurse to manager. The overall intention was to generate ideas about how to support leadership development among PHC facility managers. Adopting case study methodology, the primary researcher facilitated in-depth discussions (about their personal history and managerial experiences) with eight participating facility managers from one geographical area. Other data were collected through in-depth interviews with key informants, document review and researcher field notes/journaling. Analysis involved data triangulation, respondent and peer review and cross-case analysis. The experiences show that the PHC facility manager's job is dominated by a range of tasks and procedures focused on clinical service management, but is expected to encompass action to address the population and public health needs of the surrounding community. Managing with and through others, and in a complex system, requiring self-management, are critical aspects of the job. A range of personal, professional and contextual factors influence managerial practice, including professional identity. The current largely facility-focused management practice reflects the strong nursing identity of managers and broader organizational influences. However, three of the eight managers appear to self-identify an emerging leadership identity and demonstrate related managerial practices. Nonetheless, there is currently limited support for an identity transition towards leadership in this context. Better support for leadership development could include talent-spotting and nurturing, induction and peer-mentoring for newly appointed facility managers, ongoing peer-support once in post and continuous reflective practice.
Keywords: PHC facilities; health managers; leadership development; managerial practice.
Published by Oxford University Press in association with The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine © The Author 2014; all rights reserved.