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

  • Randi W. Aas
  • Kjersti L. Ellingsen
  • Preben Lindøe
  • Anders Möller


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


Sick leave Disability management Return to work Content analysis Occupational rehabilitation Workplace Leadership Rogaland RTW study 



We are very grateful to the 19 participating companies, especially to the 30 subordinates and 28 supervisors who shared their experiences with us. We also thank the funding sources: the National Research Council of Norway, Program for Work and Health, and the Norwegian Employers’ Organization (NHO) Working Environment fund.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Randi W. Aas
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kjersti L. Ellingsen
    • 3
  • Preben Lindøe
    • 4
  • Anders Möller
    • 5
  1. 1.IRIS, International Research Institute of StavangerStavangerNorway
  2. 2.Karolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Diakonhjemmet University College RogalandSandnesNorway
  4. 4.Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of StavangerStavangerNorway
  5. 5.Nordic School of Public HealthGothenburgSweden

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