Issues addressed: Reorientation of the workforce in primary health care is a complex process and requires specific strategies and interventions. Primary health care providers are a key health care workforce that is expected to deliver tangible outcomes from disease prevention and health promotion strategies. This paper describes a training intervention that occurred as part of a broader participatory action research process for building health promotion capacity in the primary health care workforce. Methods: Participatory action research (PAR) was conducted over six action and reflection cycles in a two-year period (2001-02) in an urban community health setting in the Northern Territory. One of the PAR cycles was a training intervention that was identified as a need from a survey in the first action and reflection cycle. This training was facilitated by a health promotion specialist, face-to-face and comprised five 3.5-h sessions over a 5-month period. A pre-post questionnaire was used to measure the knowledge and skills components of the training intervention. Results: The results reinforced the importance of using a participatory approach that involved the primary health care providers themselves. Multiple strategies such as workforce development within capacity building frameworks assisted in shifting work practice more upstream. Additionally, these strategies encouraged more reflective practice and built social capital within the primary health care workforce. Conclusion Lessons from practice reinforce that workforce development influenced work practice change and is an important element in building the health promotion capacity of primary health care centres. So what? Workforce development is critical for reorienting health services. Health promotion specialists play an important role in reorienting practice, which is only effective when combined with other strategies, and driven and led by the primary health care workforce.