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Public health leadership in the times of COVID-19: a comparative case study of three countries

Jeffrey Glenn (Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA)
Claire Chaumont (Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Pablo Villalobos Dintrans (Programa Centro Salud Pública, Facultad de Ciencias Médicas, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Santiago, Chile)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 30 October 2020

Issue publication date: 4 February 2021




The purpose is to understand the role of public leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and advocate for a more active role of public health professionals in helping manage the crisis.


The authors use the framework developed by Boin et al. (2005) on crisis leadership. The authors focus on three of the core tasks – sense-making, decision-making and meaning-making – that are relevant to explain the role of public leaders during the ongoing crisis. The authors draw from the experience of three countries – Chile, France and the United States – to illustrate how these tasks were exercised with concrete examples.


Several examples of the way in which public leaders reacted to the crisis are found in the selected countries. Countries show different responses to the way they assessed and reacted to the COVID-19 as a crisis, the decisions taken to prevent infections and mitigate consequences, and the way they communicate information to the population.

Practical implications

A better understanding public leadership as a key for better crisis management, particularly for designing policy responses to public health crises. Public health leaders need to assume a more active role in the crisis management process, which also implies the emergence of a new class of public health leaders and a more prominent role for public health in the public eye.


The use of examples from three different countries, as well as the focus on the core leadership tasks during an ongoing crisis help not only assessing the crisis management but also extracting lessons for the coming months, as well as future public health emergencies. The three authors have a first-hand experience on the evolution of the crisis in their countries and the environment, since they are currently living and working in public health in Chile, France and the United States.



The authors thank the comments and suggestions from two anonymous reviewers and the editor.


Glenn, J., Chaumont, C. and Villalobos Dintrans, P. (2021), "Public health leadership in the times of COVID-19: a comparative case study of three countries", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 81-94.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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