A challenge in maintaining role clarity in collaborations is that members of the collaboration might need to adapt their roles at times. For example, during busy times, members may take on roles they do not usually perform.

Although this can add to some challenges in role clarity, it is important for members of the collaboration to be flexible and adjust their roles. Being comfortable to adapt is key when you have people who cross different roles.

All members being flexible and adaptable in roles helps to facilitate collaboration.

Another commonly felt challenge related to role clarity is feeling unappreciated and misunderstood by the other sector.

Primary Care PhysicianA primary care physician reflected on his observations of the roles of nurses in their collaboration to give this illustrative example:

I’ll check people’s weight and blood pressure. That is not the role necessarily of the admitting doctor. But, if I can help out, I will. And when things are functioning well, I never have to do it.

The collaboration worked great for us but the public health nurses said ‘well we’re doing that work anyway, why would you have a primary care nurse do it too?’ It was problematic, since a lot of time was spent trying to overcome some of the concerns about everyone’s roles.

There are times where role clarity can also be a challenge. Lack of agreement and understanding of roles and mandates, perception and misconceptions, and feeling unappreciated and misunderstood by the other sector can act as barriers to collaboration.

Example IconExample
Primary care partners can have negative perceptions of roles of public health staff. The public health enforcement role, such as with tobacco control or vaccine cold chain management, can be viewed as a barrier to collaboration by some.

This perception of public health roles can lead to significant challenges to building trusting and inclusive relationships, which is another interpersonal factor influencing collaboration. Clarifying and communicating public health roles in a positive light can help support collaboration.

RRelated Iconelated: Trusting and Inclusive Relationships


Tip IconPrimary Care – Public Health Silos
Do not assume that people in the other sector understand your role…  even if you have been working for many years in the same position.

Another challenge related to role clarity can sometimes arise in collaborations when providers in one sector assume providers in the other sector understand their roles. This can even occur when providers have worked for many years in the same position and sector. Silo thinking can occur and roles can remain unclear to the providers in the other sector.

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