The health of the nation’s women, children, youth, and families is influenced by a wide array of factors, including the health practices of individuals and groups, the availability of public health and health care resources, and the social determinants of health. At the foundation of a healthy community is a highly qualified, diverse workforce that can positively affect these factors at the individual, community, and policy levels. Together, this collective is known as the maternal and child health (MCH) workforce. To be an MCH leader requires specific knowledge, skills, personal characteristics, and values.
In 2007, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) first released the MCH Leadership Competencies in order to support current and future MCH leaders by defining the knowledge and skills necessary to lead in this field. The Competencies, shared across the multiple MCH disciplines, unifies the workforce on a common path to equip the MCH workforce with the knowledge, skills, personal characteristics and values to improve the health of MCH populations.
From the outset, the Competencies were developed with input from grantees and professional associations. Following a similar process, the Competencies were updated in 2018 in collaboration with those same partners to reflect changes in the leadership skills needed for MCH professionals today.
The Competencies described in this document are drawn from both theory and practice to support and promote MCH leadership. The document is intended for MCH interdisciplinary training programs, national, state, and local health agencies, and other MCH organizations to support new and practicing MCH professionals by:
An MCH leader is one who understands and supports the MCH mission, values, and goals with a sense of purpose and moral commitment. MCH leaders come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds (e.g., public health, pediatrics, nutrition, nursing, psychology, social work, family, self-advocacy, etc.) and build upon their expertise to reach this population through acquisition of MCH specific knowledge and skills. Therefore, MCH leaders possess core knowledge of MCH populations and their needs. They continually seek new knowledge and improvement of abilities and skills central to effective, self-reflective, and evidence-based leadership. The MCH leader demonstrates professionalism in attitudes and working habits. The MCH leader is also committed to sustaining an infrastructure to recruit, train, and mentor future MCH leaders to ensure the health and well-being of tomorrow’s children and families. Finally, the MCH leader is responsive to the changing political, social, scientific, and demographic context and demonstrates the capability to change quickly and adapt in the face of emerging challenges and opportunities.
The MCH Leadership Competencies describe the necessary knowledge, skills (foundational and advanced), personal characteristics, and values within a framework designed to support and promote MCH leadership. Therefore, the Competencies can be used in a variety of ways, including:
Also important is the understanding that leadership (1) can be developed through learning and experience; (2) can be exerted at various levels within an organization and at the national, state, or local levels; and (3) opportunities change over time.
The developmental progression of leadership is of particular importance to those involved in the training and continuing education of MCH health professionals. Leadership ability grows as the knowledge, skills, and experience of the individual expands and deepens. The graphic illustrates the widening spheres of influence that leaders experience as they develop—from self to others to the wider community.
The MCH Leadership Competencies are organized within this conceptual framework in a progression from self to wider community demonstrating the widening contacts, broadening interests, and growing influence that MCH leaders can experience over their career. However, despite this organization, the Competencies are applied across the spheres of influence. For example, cultural competency is essential when working with individuals, teams and at the wider community. Each of the 12 Competencies includes a definition and knowledge areas which provide the basis for the foundational and advanced skills.
As indicated, the MCH leadership competencies were first released in 2007. Since that time, they have been refined and modified to reflect changes in the field.
2007 – The MCH Leadership Competencies were developed based on the leadership literature and an iterative (three-year) collaborative process involving input from MCHB grantees, representatives of the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP), and CityMatCH.
2009 – An updated version of the Competencies was released following a rigorous 2-phase Delphi validation process, wherein the initial Competencies were refined to remove redundancies and distill the list based on consensus.
2018 – The MCH Leadership Competencies were revised based on feedback from stakeholders in the field, a literature review, and input from a workgroup consisting of: MCHB grantees, representatives of AMCHP, the Association of University Centers on Disability, the Association of Teachers of Maternal and Child Health, and CityMatCH, to reflect changes in the field as well as evolving challenges and priorities.
These MCH Leadership Competencies web pages are continually updated to provide information about the Competencies, offering:
MCHB seeks to further support implementation of the Competencies by various audiences in diverse settings by providing tools for MCH professionals, students, and others working to improve the health and well-being of women, children, and families.
One such tool is the HRSA-funded MCH Navigator managed by the National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health at Georgetown University. The MCH Navigator includes a self-assessment tool that provides an opportunity to identify learning needs within the MCH Leadership Competencies and to match those needs with appropriate trainings. The MCH Navigator provides additional resources for students and practicing professionals learning individually or in groups.
Major recommendations addressed in the revised Competencies, by sphere of influence, are:
Finally, this document represents the continuation of a dialogue regarding MCH leadership and the MCH Leadership Competencies. We welcome and look forward to your ongoing involvement examining and defining the knowledge areas and skills that are essential to effective MCH leadership.