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University of Sunderland

Shaping success through effective leadership in healthcare

Posted on: July 12, 2022
Healthcare professionals with a man in a suit shaking hands

The connection between effective leadership, an engaged workforce, and better patient outcomes within healthcare settings is significant. Strong leadership leads to increased engagement and satisfaction among healthcare professionals, which in turn leads to:

  • lower infection and mortality rates.
  • higher inspection scores.
  • improved patient experiences.
  • fewer staff errors.
  • increased morale across the healthcare service.

Among advanced clinical practitioners – such as nurses, pharmacists, paramedics, occupational therapists, midwives, and so on – leadership and management also make up one of four pillars of advanced practice as outlined by Health Education England in its multi-professional framework. In fact, elements of leadership are embedded within all four pillars. For example: 

  1. Clinical practice. Health and care professionals should act as clinical role models for developing and delivering care that is responsive to changing requirements.
  2. Leadership and management. Health and care professionals should lead new practice and service redesign solutions in response to feedback, evaluation and need, working across boundaries and broadening the sphere of influence.
  3. Education. Health and care professionals should act as a role model, educator, supervisor, coach and mentor, seeking to instill and develop the confidence of others.
  4. Research. Health and care professionals should actively identify potential need for further research to strengthen evidence for best practice. This may involve acting as an educator, leader, innovator, or contributor to research activity, as well as seeking out and applying for research funding.

Leadership development: the path to high-quality care

Developing – and nurturing – healthcare leaders can play a significant role in overcoming challenges currently faced within the National Health Service (NHS). Effective leaders can shift an organisational culture, driving improvements for patient care within healthcare settings and increasing both patient satisfaction as well as job satisfaction, and retention, among staff.

There are a number of leadership models, methods, and resources for developing effective leadership in healthcare organisations and healthcare systems, and these are outlined by a number of relevant stakeholders.

The King’s Fund

The King’s Fund, an independent charitable organisation working to improve health and care in England, states that in order to support staff and improve care, leadership needs to be:

  • Collective. Collective leadership means that leadership power is distributed based on the existing expertise, capability, and motivation within an organisation. Everyone takes responsibility for the organisation’s success, and anyone within the organisation can solve problems, innovate, and create caring and supportive environments for patients. Shared leadership differs from more traditional approaches to leadership, where the focus is on developing individual capabilities, such as command-and-control management structures, and transactional leadership.
  • Compassionate. Compassionate leadership relies on constructive relationships between leaders and staff. It requires leaders to listen carefully to staff, understand them, empathise with them, and support them. This in turn makes staff feel valued, respected, and cared for. According to the King’s Trust, this leads to more engaged and motivated staff with higher levels of well-being, and ultimately results in high-quality care for patients.
  • Inclusive. Like compassionate leadership, inclusive leadership builds connections across boundaries. It ensures that all voices within healthcare services are heard, and encourages actions such as the creation of change strategies, organisational processes that promote equality and diversity, and safe spaces for staff to speak about discrimination and exclusion. An inclusive environment can increase clinical effectiveness and patient safety, as well as staff health, well-being, and engagement.

The King’s Fund also collaborated on a systematic review and report, Leadership and Leadership Development in Health Care: The Evidence Base. This document has informed many of the conversations around the importance of leadership, leadership theory, and leadership competency.

Additionally, there are a number of resources available through the King’s Trust, including:

  • An Introduction to Leading with Kindness and Compassion in Health and Social Care, a free, three-week online leadership programme that covers what it means to lead with kindness and compassion, as well as why this is important, and how it can be done.
  • A regular podcast series, covering topics such as ‘Leading with compassion: supporting the health and wellbeing of NHS staff’ and ‘What makes a leader? GP trainee, Dr Nish Manek, on getting people behind a purpose’.
  • A number of reports, articles, and other publications on the topic of leadership.

The NHS Healthcare Leadership Model

The NHS Healthcare Leadership Model is an evidence-based model developed by the NHS Leadership Academy.

It was designed to enable better leadership from all NHS staff within their day-to-day roles, and it includes nine leadership dimensions:

  1. Inspiring shared purpose
  2. Leading with care
  3. Evaluating information
  4. Connecting service
  5. Sharing vision
  6. Engaging teams
  7. Holding to account
  8. Developing capability
  9. Influencing for results

Healthcare professionals can explore each of the leadership dimensions at their own pace and then undertake a free, online self-assessment tool to gauge their leadership behaviours. There is a 360-degree feedback tool so that people in leadership roles can gain further insight into their abilities and behaviours, and there are also a number of helpful materials, including case studies and other supporting tools and resources.

The NHS also has a framework for clinical leadership that serves as a guide for senior leaders to develop professional diversity at the board level.

The BMJ Leader

BMJ Leader is an online, peer-reviewed journal that focuses on leadership in health and care. 

Through original research, interpretations of the existing evidence base, and input from practitioners, the journal is dedicated to developing and connecting leaders throughout the industry. There is commentary on transformational leadership, challenges to leadership in the NHS, and leadership styles.

There is also a BMJ Leader blog that is updated regularly.

The Royal College of Nursing

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) states that nurses prefer managers who are participative, facilitative, and emotionally intelligent – and that leadership skills are vital for patients’ quality of care and quality improvement. A good leader can build an effective team that is motivated and innovative, demonstrates effective teamwork, is less susceptible to burnout, and feels a sense of empowerment in its work.

Among other resources, the RCN promotes:

Starting conversations about leadership 

In most organisations, implementing new leadership strategies and ideas typically trickles down from the top – from decision-making boards and human resources.

However, the NHS healthcare leadership model encourages everyone within the NHS, including those on the frontline of public health – clinicians, clinical leaders, and health administration staff – to take ownership of their own leadership development.

There is a wealth of resources available, as well as mentoring programmes and other avenues for personal growth. It can be as simple as starting conversations about leadership with other team members, asking questions such as:

  1. What does leadership mean?
  2. Why is leadership important in healthcare?
  3. What are the best leadership styles?
  4. What leadership styles are used in healthcare?
  5. What are the benefits and drawbacks of different leadership styles?
  6. What are the challenges to leadership in healthcare?
  7. How does a leader in healthcare differ from a leader in other industries?
  8. What is the difference between command and transformational leadership?
  9. What is the difference between leadership and management?
  10. What are some qualities of a good leader in healthcare?

Become a healthcare leader

Develop your leadership skills and gain the knowledge and skills you need to progress into senior nursing, midwifery, and healthcare roles with the 100% online MSc Nursing Studies at the University of Sunderland.

This flexible master’s degree has been designed for registered nurses in the UK and across the world who want to build on their current experience to advance to higher pay bands or further develop within their existing roles.

You’ll study key theories, approaches, and the available evidence base, conduct case-based analysis, and develop critical appraisal skills, with leadership and management in a healthcare context being one of the key areas of study.


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