Strong Leadership and Good Management

Strong leadership and good management help family planning programs improve and expand services, scale up best practices, and navigate change.

Leadership and management are two sides of the same coin: Each is equally essential for any organization to succeed.

  • Managers deal with day-to-day complexities—planning and organizing resources to achieve objectives, implementing activities, problem-solving, and monitoring and evaluating progress. 
  • Leaders use creative thinking and innovation to build an overall vision for their programs, and inspire others to make the changes needed to realize that vision. 

Management Deals With Day-to-Day Complexities

Program managers are responsible for five essential management functions:

  • Planning how to allocate resources to achieve specified objectives. For example, if the goal of a program is to decrease unmet need for contraception in rural areas, managers can plan to expand access by introducing community-based distribution to expand program reach.
  • Organizing resources and processes to facilitate operations and activities. For example, minimizing waiting times for clients who come to clinics for repeat contraceptive injections by routing clients with problems and clients with no problems to providers with differing expertise.
  • Implementing activities effectively and efficiently. For instance, staffing appropriately to cover different caseloads at different clinics, avoiding both overstaffing and understaffing.
  • Problem solving to make day-to-day activities function smoothly—for example, transferring supplies between clinics if a stock out unexpectedly occurs.
  • Monitoring and evaluating progress and using findings to make improvements.

Strategic thinking helps managers move from a purely managerial position into a leadership role. When managers think strategically, they assess their program’s strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities with a long-term vision in mind.

Leadership Fosters and Nurtures Change

Health sector reforms such as decentralization or shifts in donor funding bring new challenges and responsibilities for program managers, often requiring them to adopt leadership roles.

Three key roles in leadership include:

  • Acting as a catalyst by identifying opportunities for change. For example, instead of seeing a new national decentralization policy as a setback, leaders look for ways to make decentralization an opportunity to strengthen the program.
  • Creating an enabling environment by encouraging teamwork, trust, open-mindedness, transparency, and shared accountability.
  • Encouraging learning and innovation to create new knowledge about what works. Available research and the lessons of the past do not have all the answers. Effective leaders encourage staff to challenge assumptions and look at the situation in new ways.

Program managers who have to play the role of both manager and leader can consider attending a leadership training program. (Leadership courses are available both in-person and online. For information about leadership development, visit the Leadership and Management Toolkit.)

Case Examples of Strong Family Planning Leaders

  • In Colombia founder Fernando Tamayo and Executive Director Miguel Triás helped the nonprofit organization Profamilia grow from a single clinic in 1965 to the largest provider of family planning services in the country today, serving 65% of the country’s family planning users.
  • In Thailand Mechai Viravaidya, a former government economist, founded the Population and Community Development Association in 1974, which fueled the country’s family planning effort in its early stages.
  • In Indonesia physician Haryono Suyono served as head of the Indonesian National Family Planning Coordinating Board for 15 years, during which time Indonesia had the greatest reduction in its total fertility rate together with increasing contraceptive prevalence levels.