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To dictate or collaborate? A phenomenological exploration of physiotherapists’ leadership styles
  1. Victoria Smith1,
  2. Claire Maxwell2,
  3. Lisa Robinson1
  1. 1 Rehabilitation department, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2 Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  1. Correspondence to Victoria Smith, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE7 7DN, UK; victoria.smith104{at}


Objectives Selection of effective leadership styles within healthcare is linked to high quality, safe care for patients. Within the literature attention has been given to medical and nursing professions, failing to acknowledge the contribution made by physiotherapy leaders. This study aims to consider the leadership styles used by physiotherapists in a designated leadership role, specifically exploring the barriers they face and the strategies employed to overcome current leadership dilemmas.

Design A qualitative, phenomenological design was used. Consent was obtained from each participant for one semistructured interview which was audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Framework analysis was used to analyse the data.

Setting A large National Health Service Foundation Trust within the North East of England.

Participants A purposive sample of ten physiotherapy team leaders.

Results The theoretical leadership framework that emerged demonstrated the daily tensions experienced by physiotherapy team leaders in regard to being a transactional or transformational leader. Within this, three superordinate themes exist: the individual, the team and the organisation and beyond. Each theme contained barriers and enablers which related to transactional and transformational leadership styles, respectively.

Conclusions The framework identified gives insight into a group of clinical leaders not yet explored and provides a foundation for the development of leadership behaviours throughout physiotherapy. These clinicians should be supported by senior leaders to develop more transformational styles which have the potential to impact on staff well-being and patient care. Future research should compare these findings with studies involving larger sample sizes that span the health and social care system.

  • clinical leadership
  • health system
  • strategy

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. Data are available on reasonable request (transcripts).

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Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. Data are available on reasonable request (transcripts).

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  • Contributors VS is the acting guarantor for the study. CM and LR have contributed substantially to: The study design, analysis and interpretation of data, development of the conceptual framework, drafts and revisions of the paper and approval of the version published.

  • Funding This work was supported by the National Institute of Health Research Clinical Academic Training Scheme; and The Leaders and Managers of Physiotherapy Services Executive Committee who provided sponsorship of £200 towards transcription costs.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.