The best job in the world?: The views of first-time NHS chief executives

Reflections from chief executives on how a new generation of leaders is going to approach the task of transforming health and care.

12 June 2019

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Who would be a chief executive in the NHS? With quality and finance targets to juggle, and a shorter career lifespan than a football manager, it is sometimes portrayed as an increasingly unattractive option for managers and clinicians to aspire to.

But the observations of nine new NHS chief executives, with tenures from 18 months to 2.5 years, outlined in this report might have you pose a different question: ‘why wouldn’t you want to be a chief executive in the NHS?’. Indeed, they describe how their roles are a privilege, providing them with opportunities to change lives and work for their communities.

These new chief executives have taken on their roles at a time of significant change within the NHS. In order to deliver the vision of the Long Term Plan, it is widely understood that a different style and approach of leadership will be required throughout the system. This will require a different mindset – and the reflections from the chief executives interviewed for this report indicate how a new generation of leaders are going to approach the task ahead.

Several key themes emerged from the interviews:

  • Hope over pessimism
  • A new leadership culture
  • Having an organisation and system mindset
  • Working within a dated regulatory system
  • A different approach to identifying and supporting leaders
  • A more diverse leadership and inclusive cultures