COVID-19 presents unique and complex challenges to the Scottish National Health Service (NHS). As COVID-19 preventative measures are effective at reducing disease spread, promoting staff adherence in high-risk workplaces is vital. The present research explored the role of identity leadership on (a) staff’s appraisals of leadership and (b) staff’s adherence to and attitudes towards COVID-19 guidance. Semi-structured interviews (N = 25) were conducted with NHS staff across two Scottish hospitals. Using Reflexive Thematic Analysis, two over-arching themes were generated: leadership presence and approachable leadership who act on group concerns, where both created positive appraisals of leadership and were seen to facilitate adherence. Guidance from present leaders was perceived as both practical and applicable. Approachable leaders were viewed to facilitate information sharing, clarify guidance, and allow staff to raise concerns. Leaders who were seen to act on group concerns provided resources or updated guidance to promote adherence. The present study provides theoretical and practical advancements to (a) expand the known role of identity leadership in promoting safety in workplaces and (b) facilitate routes for adherence to safety guidance beyond COVID-19.


© 2024 Smith, Templeton. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Cite as

Smith, K. & Templeton, A. 2024, 'Identity leadership and adherence to COVID-19 safety guidance in hospital settings', PLoS ONE, 19(1), article no: e0293002. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0293002

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Last updated: 08 February 2024
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