Good guidance for managers will be just as crucial as guidance for clinicians in implementing the findings of the next stage review of the health service, led by health minister Lord Darzi, he said.
"Darzi rightly points to local decision making with the provision of central clinical guidance. Management guidance requires equally rigorous research and communication," he told a Faculty of Public Health conference last week.
"It is not clinical guidance - in its narrowest sense - that will be necessary to make implementation work."
Sir Derek, who led major reviews of health service spending, also said the government needed to get better at assessing which NHS policies worked.
"The evidence available for estimating the impact of a wide range of inter-connecting policies which the government has pursued is extremely limited," he said.
At the conference in Cardiff, the Faculty of Public Health and Association of Directors of Public Health called for more national and local action to tackle alcohol misuse.