Leadership Qualities in the Return to Work Process: A Content Analysis

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Supervisors have a core role to play in facilitating the safe and effective return to work (RTW) of employees on long-term sick leave. Previous studies have revealed that the risk of long-term sick leave increases with lower social support from the supervisor and lower management quality. The aim of this study was to elucidate leadership qualities that are valued in the RTW process of employees.


The study formed part of the Rogaland RTW study, and was designed as a qualitative case study that included interviews with subordinates (n = 30) on long-term sick leave (>8 weeks) and their supervisors (n = 28) from 19 companies. The informants represented a heterogeneous sample regarding diagnoses, types of occupations, positions, company sector, branches, and sizes. Qualitative and quantitative content analysis of the transcripts obtained during interviews identified leadership qualities.


Three-hundred-and-forty-five descriptions of leadership qualities were identified, which were categorized into 78 distinct leadership qualities and 7 leadership types. The five most valued leadership qualities were “ability to make contact”, “being considerate”, “being understanding”, “being empathic”, and “being appreciative”. The three most valued leadership types were the Protector, Problem-Solver, and Contact-Maker. While the subordinates gave more descriptions to the Encourager, Recognizer, and Protector types, the supervisors described the Responsibility-Maker and Problem-Solver most often. The most frequent reported combination of types was the Protector and Problem-Solver, reported by 54% of the informants, while the most common three-types-combination was the Protector, Problem-Solver, and Contact-Maker reported by 37% of the informants.


This study revealed that there is a wide spectrum of valued leadership qualities, with those reported as being valuable differing between employees and supervisors.

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