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Leadership in evidence-based practice: a systematic review

Ursula Reichenpfader (Department of Medical and Health Sciences Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden)
Siw Carlfjord (Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden)
Per Nilsen (Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden)

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1751-1879

Article publication date: 5 October 2015




This study aims to systematically review published empirical research on leadership as a determinant for the implementation of evidence-based practice (EBP) and to investigate leadership conceptualization and operationalization in this field.


A systematic review with narrative synthesis was conducted. Relevant electronic bibliographic databases and reference lists of pertinent review articles were searched. To be included, a study had to involve empirical research and refer to both leadership and EBP in health care. Study quality was assessed with a structured instrument based on study design.


A total of 17 studies were included. Leadership was mostly viewed as a modifier for implementation success, acting through leadership support. Yet, there was definitional imprecision as well as conceptual inconsistency, and studies seemed to inadequately address situational and contextual factors. Although referring to an organizational factor, the concept was mostly analysed at the individual or group level.

Research limitations/implications

The concept of leadership in implementation science seems to be not fully developed. It is unclear whether attempts to tap the concept of leadership in available instruments truly capture and measure the full range of the diverse leadership elements at various levels. Research in implementation science would benefit from a better integration of research findings from other disciplinary fields. Once a more mature concept has been established, researchers in implementation science could proceed to further elaborate operationalization and measurement.


Although the relevance of leadership in implementation science has been acknowledged, the conceptual base of leadership in this field has received only limited attention.



Reichenpfader, U., Carlfjord, S. and Nilsen, P. (2015), "Leadership in evidence-based practice: a systematic review", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 298-316.



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