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Week 4: Skills Approach

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In 1957, roughly one out of 30 Alaskan natives was quarantined in a tuberculosis hospital. Already widespread in Europe, the disease made its way to the United States and was advancing. In the wake of a pervasive outbreak, the United States Public Health Service commissioned doctors to research patterns of the bacteria. Among the candidates, one epidemiologist, Dr. George W. Comstock, who expressed extensive interest in preventative tuberculosis treatment, rose to the challenge to curb the outbreak. After organizing numerous clinical trials, his research and statistical understanding highlighted the most effective vaccine against tuberculosis. The data, organizational procedures, and skills utilized by Comstock in Alaska remain as updated guidelines still used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

(Selvam & Passannante, 2008).

The unique blend of skills used by Dr. Comstock highlight this week’s leadership perspective—Skills Approach. This week, you examine the similarities and differences between Skills Approach and Trait Theory. You also analyze how a Skills Approach to leadership may offer a valuable framework for leaders in the field of public health.

Reference: Selvam, N., & Passannante, M. (2008). Commentary: More than just luck—The impact of Dr. George W. Comstock on tuberculosis in the 20th century.
American Journal of Epidemiology, 168(7), 683–686.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • Analyze similarities and differences between Skills Approach and Trait Theory of leadership
  • Apply Skills Approach and Trait Theory to personal leadership philosophies
  • Analyze skills and traits in leaders
  • Evaluate skills and traits in leaders
  • Evaluate systemic issues in public health settings
  • Apply systems thinking to strategies for systems improvement

Learning Resources

Required Readings

Nahavandi, A. (2014).
The art and science of leadership (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

  • Chapter 4, “Individual Differences and Traits”

Genat, B., & Robinson, P. (2010). New competencies for public health graduates: A useful tool for course design. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 34(5), 513 – 516.

Mumford, M. D., Zaccaro, S. J., Harding, F. D., Jacobs, T. O., & Fleishman, E. A. (2000). Leadership skills for a changing world: Solving complex social problems. Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 11-35.

Topol, E. (2004). Failing the public health–Rofecoxib, Merck, and the FDA. The New England Journal of Medicine, 351(17), 1707-1709.

Optional Resources

Leadership IQ. Test Your Leadership: Are You a 100% Leader? Retrieved from

Murray, A. (2011). Leadership styles. [Adapted from] Wall Street Journal’s Guide to Management. Retrieved from

Discussion: Skills Versus Traits and the Systems Perspective

Skills Approach differs from Trait Theory because it focuses on an individual’s skills and abilities versus an individual’s traits. Although traits may be important for a leader in public health, skills also determine leadership effectiveness. Contemporary research has noted that an individual may garner skills and competencies from professional experiences. For example, a leader’s skills derived from non-profit experience securing funds for multiple, low-funded health clinics may assist in developing valuable competencies in matters of negotiation and organization. From developed skills and competencies, an individual may gain a leadership position or emerge as an effective leader.

For this Discussion, review the Learning Resources, with specific attention to the journal article by Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, Jacobs, and Fleishman. Reflect on skills and traits that might be necessary for leadership within a public health setting. Also, think about how traits and skills may relate to your personal public health leadership philosophy.

By Day 4

Post a brief comparison (similarities and differences) of Skills Approach and Trait Theory. Then, explain if a skill can be a trait, or a trait can be a skill. Justify your response and provide an example. Finally, explain how each might relate to your personal public health leadership philosophy. Be specific.