Feature 7


Developing MCH Leaders 

By Laura Kavanagh, MPP
Training Branch Chief, Division of Research, Training and Education, MCHB 

“An MCH Leader inspires and brings people together to achieve sustainable results to improve the lives of the MCH population.”[1] 

Why Leadership? 

The field of MCH has a rich history of leadership. From its very beginning, committed leaders tackled an ambitious agenda for MCH with few resources, determined to assure that approaches were based on the best science available. As MCH professionals you are part of this legacy—to inspire others, to build partnerships, to be accountable for sustainable results, and ultimately to improve lives. 

Today MCHB remains committed to developing and sustaining MCH leadership. Innovative approaches and partnerships continue to require tireless leaders who are devoted to MCH. Leadership is the first goal in MCHB’s strategic plan and leadership development is a defining theme for our MCH Training Program, whose mission is to educate the next generation of MCH leaders.  

Why Focus on MCH Leadership Development? 

At the Federal level, we face many of the same issues that you face in the states. Within the federal MCHB workforce, approximately 1/3 of all staff and over 2/3 of senior staff are eligible to retire in the next five years. Recruitment and succession planning are critical concerns for all of us. We need to continuously develop the staff that we have and recruit those who will be taking our places as MCH leaders. 

What tools do we have available to us? 

In order to tackle the leadership development challenges facing us, MCHB has invested in a wide variety of initiatives. 

Graduate Education—One important way that MCHB contributes to MCH leadership development is by supporting graduate education programs in schools of public health and clinical leadership training programs in MCH throughout the U.S. Detailed information about these programs is available here. 

Lifelong Learning—The Maternal and Child Health Leadership Skills Training Institute offers continuing education and training to increase leadership skills for Title V staff. Learn more. 

In addition to the MCH Leadership Skills Training Institute, MCHB supports 2 MCH Certificate Programs, targeted to practicing MCH professionals at the University of Arizona College of Public Health, and the University of Hawaii 

MCHB has also invested in continuing education and distance learning programs on topics as diverse as leadership and legacy, maternal mental health, and engaging families in evidence based research. We have also developed websites such as the MCH Timeline. 

MCH Leadership Competencies

Do you need resources to develop a job description for an MCH leader, or competency areas for staff development efforts in your agency? The MCH Leadership Competencies are a good starting point. The site defines MCH leadership competencies in 12 areas and provides information about how others are using the competencies.  


MCH Directors from the Pacific Basin, in collaboration with Dr. Wendy Adam from Baylor College of Medicine, have used the MCH Leadership Competencies to craft a leadership development program. 

AMCHP is also using the MCH Leadership competencies for Board development and a leadership development program for State Adolescent Health Coordinators. 

Contact us with your ideas

Let us know what tools you’d like to see for leadership development in your state. Please contact Laura Kavanagh.


“Leaders aren't born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”
-Vince Lombardi

[1] Adapted from: George, B. (2006, October 30). Truly authentic leadership. U.S. News & World Report, 52