October 15, 2017

Morris Weinberger, PhD
Vergil N. Slee Distinguished Professor of Healthcare Quality Management
Chair, Health Policy and Management
Professor of medicine, UNC School of Medicine

Q: What do you tell your students about how to prepare to be leaders in public health?

A: Public health leaders must be prepared for change that is different from the past. As researchers, we’ve been taught to build knowledge incrementally, that is to use results from one study to design the next one.

However, the world now changes at breakneck speed, and the sheer volume and types of data and technology available to leaders is increasing. With the rapidity of these changes, our students should expect to lead transformational changes in their organizations. They will need to be agile, curious, innovative and persistent as they become leaders in public health. They will also need softer skills, including knowing how to communicate with diverse stakeholders.

Q: How has your approach to leadership changed since you became a chair at the Gillings School?

A: Although I’ve held a number of leadership positions in the past, the role of department chair is new to me. I have gained a deeper appreciation for the complex relationships among administrative units at the University, School and department levels. I’ve become more aware of how important it is to build and trust a team – pulling together with clear goals in mind – to face whatever challenges arise.

I value input from students, faculty and staff. Part of leading is listening to all the sides and resolving differences. When making decisions, I strive to be as transparent as possible, so others understand why I made a decision, even if they disagree.

As a professor, I’ve had the opportunity to lead through mentorship. Our students are still at the core of what I love about being at the Gillings School, and I’d never want to diminish those relationships. Finding time to juggle students’ needs, my research and the department’s administrative needs can be a challenge, but doing so is well worth the effort.

Q: What characteristics are most important in public health leaders today?

A: Public health leaders must be able to identify the most pressing problems facing their organizations, develop innovative strategies to address those problems and understand how to evaluate whether those strategies were effective. In addition, they often will need to apply systems thinking if they want those changes to be sustainable.

Public health will continue to require thinking outside the box. We can find the creative solutions we need if we keep ourselves open to inquiry and challenges.

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Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit sph.unc.edu/cph.