Reaching for the stars

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 1 May 2013 in Interviews

In our series on those who picked up prizes at TJ's 2012 Awards, Seun Robert-Edomi talks to Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, winner of the best public sector programme

An initiative that helped to hone the leadership skills of a group of NHS consultants was acknowledged at last year's TJ Awards.

The Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was rewarded with gold prize for the best public sector initiative for its programme at November' s ceremony, edging out Plymouth City Council and Coleg Gwent in the process.

The Trust was lauded for equipping its employees with strategic-level skills, enabling them to lead effectively and make a difference within the organisation. Keith Tanner, category judge and trainer, said: "The design and tailoring of the programme, and the sheer enthusiasm and commitment that was shown, really shone through."

The programme, in its original form, first came about in late 2009 as a result of the medical director's vision to better equip consultants with leadership skills. It was recognised that there was a significant skills gap in this area, given the increasing pressure for medical consultants to demonstrate strong leadership within the organisation.

A review of the practices within the Trust revealed that, while consultants came with a high level of knowledge and expertise, they struggled the moment they were asked to lead a group. This was down to the fact that the majority of them had never received any leadership training. Further data gathered from a training needs analysis showed that the aspects consultants struggled with were delegation, negotiating and influencing, and understanding how to change their leadership style to suit a situation.

In addition to this, many consultants lacked the necessary levels of self-awareness in terms of their leadership approach and how they may be perceived by others.

An evaluation of the Trust's management and leadership development strategy showed that the leadership and organisational development team needed to have a greater impact on all professional groups in order to bring about improvements in service delivery and equip more staff with the skills they needed to be effective leaders now and in the future.

As a result, two new programmes were designed and implemented: the Consultant Leadership Development Programme and the Consultant Stretch - Advanced Leadership Development Programme.

The corporate aims for the programmes were to:

  • start to bring about cultural change, in which consultants would want to take on a more senior leadership role and work in partnership with general managers in the Trust to help improve the quality of care
  • develop a network of likeminded consultants who could be called upon to innovate by challenging systems and processes to bring about service improvements
  • develop a 'talent pipeline' of consultants who had the skills, knowledge and attitude to step up into a more senior role and be effective from day one
  • empower consultants by equipping them with the skills and knowledge to take ownership of problems in their areas, enabling them to lead their team to bring about change.

The programmes were validated by Liverpool John Moores University and delivered in-house. Facilitators also made sure there was a combination of experiential and theoretical learning, which was directly applied to the participants' current work roles.

The business objectives of the programme were exceeded, with a strong cohort of likeminded consultants now recognised as leaders. Four of these were promoted to the position of clinical director or associate clinical director. Furthermore, the appetite for leadership increased to the extent that it is now included in the recruitment process and medical staff appraisals.

Graham O'Connell, category judge and head of strategy and curriculum at Civil Service Learning, paid tribute to the work done in making the programme a success.

"Lancashire Teaching Hospitals just edged ahead of the others in the top three because of the degree of challenge in making such a programme a success in a traditional NHS context," he said.

Louisa Graham, head of organisational development at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said that the practical approach to the programme meant attendants were able to take the learning away and apply it to their roles.

"It really was fantastic to have won. It was an extremely proud moment to have our work acknowledged at a national level. It's something that we continue to boast about!

"The course was fun and it has made a significant impact regionally. It has been practical and people have been able to take it away and apply it. That is all credit to the delegates," she said.

The fact the programme offered consultants a chance to solve real organisational issues on a training course helped to make the project innovative.

"The programme is offered to all new consultants, therefore, from day one, we ensure they have the leadership skills to move their service forward to continue to deliver high quality patient care. It involves service improvement projects as a way to apply learning and an experiential learning exercise in which consultants are given real organisational issues to try to solve. As a result, consultants feel empowered and engaged, knowing that their ideas and actions will be taken forward.

"I think the programme is also innovative because of its whole-systems approach: the leadership development programme is part of a huge organisational change that aims to transform the culture, specifically by the introduction of a behaviourally-focused 360° feedback tool - and this changes the way consultants are recruited and appraised."

Without gaining executive support from those above you, initiatives like this will struggle to come to fruition, Graham stressed.

"It's important to gain support from the top - without that, it won't work. Find out what the specific need is. You also need to make it practical so that you can prove your return on investment," she concluded.

For more on this year's awards, visit


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