Public health manager

Public health managers make a vital contribution to supporting the health of the public.


Public health managers work across all three 'domains' of public health (health improvement, health protection and healthcare public health).

They are experienced and qualified in public health and management, and they work with others across the health system to lead and implement programmes of work that have a focus on public health. Their areas of work can be immensely varied depending on the organisation they work in. For example, they may be: managing and supporting teams; providing public health expertise and advice to organisations; or commissioning services and managing public health budgets.

In England, the main employer is local government, but other employers include the NHS, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), and the voluntary (or 'third') sector.

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Public health manager roles

Here are just a few of the types of public health manager roles. Actual job titles are likely to vary between organisations, as can be seen from the examples in the pay and conditions section.

Shakti Dookeran

Population health service manager
While I do not work directly with the public, I do have an important part to play in ensuring that the voice of public health is heard, which requires me to present a convincing argument when relaying the evidence.

Health protection specialist

As a health protection specialist, you’ll be developing plans for protecting the health of the local population (eg from health problems that might arise as a result of extreme weather events like heat waves and floods to outbreaks such as pandemic flu).

You’ll be working with other organisations to support how services need to respond most effectively in the case of an emergency that has a potential to threaten people’s health (such in the case of severe cold or hot weather, fires, road or rail accidents, incidents at major events). These are known as emergency planning exercises.

You’ll be providing specialist advice and support on infection prevention and control to colleagues, patients, the public and organisations. For instance, you might be giving advice on wearing personal protective equipment, dealing with chemical spills and spills of bodily fluids, good hygiene practice, cleanliness within the healthcare or work environment and safe disposal of waste such as needles and sharps.

You’ll support the development of evidence-based quality standards for infection prevention and control to help prevent the spread of infections (eg infections like Covid-19, MRSA, Norovirus and Salmonella).

You’ll assist with the preparation of reports on the performance and quality of local systems for protecting health (eg the numbers and types of people who have taken up immunisation and screening programmes in a given area).

Health protection specialists require a Master’s degree in Public Health or equivalent, and significant public health experience. Often, they are registered nurses and have relevant qualifications in areas such as infection, communicable disease control, emergency planning, teaching and assessing.

Health improvement principal

As a health improvement principal, you may work in across a wide variety of public health areas and use your specialist knowledge and skills to lead and plan health improvement services and initiatives.  Often, the results of your work may not be seen for many months or years. For example, there has been a reduction in the incidence of some smoking-related cancers over the last 30 years because of greater awareness of the risks of smoking, the increase in non-smoking environments and changes to tobacco advertising. It’s likely that public health professionals such as health improvement principals have been involved in some way to bring about such change.

As a health improvement principal, you could be involved in:

  • working with a range of individuals, organisations and communities to help reduce the incidence of obesity in a local area through events, awareness raising and having access to healthy food locally
  • developing plans and strategies to help increase access to those requiring mental health services and reducing the stigma associated with some mental health conditions
  • leading on the commissioning of services and initiatives that can help to reduce drinking at dangerous levels

As a health improvement principal, you’ll be a highly trained and experienced individual. Some of the particular skills you’ll need include:

  • communicating complex information in clear and understandable ways
  • interpreting and analysing complex and often conflicting information, for example about the effectiveness of a public health programme
  • managing budgets and working with colleagues to determine the best use of often limited resources
  • evaluating services and interventions to determine how effective they have been

Health improvement principals require a Master’s qualification in Public Health or equivalent, and preferably a management qualification. Ideally, they will be working towards registration with the UK Public Health Register (UKPHR) at an appropriate level.

Commissioning manager

As a commissioning manager, you’ll be an expert in policy, identifying and promoting best practice and developing services. You’ll be responsible for selecting and hiring providers of health and social care services for a particular group of the population. The chosen providers will need to be able to support positive changes to people’s health  in a particular geographical area, for example by providing services to support those with mental health needs, such as drop in clinics, counselling support, support in applying for jobs).

Here are just some of the additional and varied tasks that commissioning managers might be involved in, depending on the areas of health they are working in their organisation:

  • determining annual plans for how services will be purchased
  • ensuring that robust contracts for services are negotiated, agreed and that the delivery of those services are effectively managed
  • managing budgets and working with colleagues in Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and local authorities to ensure that available resources are used to best effect
  • staff supervision and management

Commissioning managers are educated to degree-level or equivalent, may have a qualification in Nursing or Social Work, and will have significant experience as a manager or commissioner in the area of health concerned.

Public health principal

Public health principals work in a number of public health areas, providing highly specialist knowledge, leadership, strategic direction, policy advice, and support. They are involved in developing long-term strategic plans for the public health areas for which they are responsible, for example:

  • developing a substance and alcohol misuse strategy for a town, city or, region to support reduced access to GP services and hospital admissions
  • helping to reduce health inequalities by purchasing services for specific groups (such as access to diet, fitness and exercise services specifically for people from poorer or socio-economic backgrounds that people from wealthier backgrounds may find easier to access)
  • developing care pathways (coordinating the care of people with specific conditions within a given time frame)

Public health principals require a Master’s qualification in Public Health or equivalent, and preferably a management qualification. Ideally, they will also be working towards registration with the United Kingdom Public Health Register (UKPHR) as a specialist.

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