Ministers are being urged to spearhead a leadership drive to create NHS managers with the skills to work in a 'collaborative and involving' environment.
The taskforce on staff involvement, set up last year by former health minister Alan Milburn, has submitted a report that says new leadership skills must underpin greater staff involvement.
'Without good leadership and a bedrock of effective industrial relations, long-term change cannot happen,' a draft of the report says.
'Without this deep-seated change, the NHS will not be able to deliver the government's national healthcare priorities.'
The taskforce brought together 13 frontline health service staff, including managers, clinicians and ancillary staff.
The draft report, seen by HSJ, says the drive for higher management standards should include investment in targeted programmes to encourage 'the preferred leadership style'.
It says leaders, including those in primary care, should be motivated to learn 'across professions and discipline'.
And it recommends that selection criteria for appointments to NHS boards should include possession of the 'involving leadership style' that the NHS needs.
The report also emphasises that contractors cannot be left out of the equation.
But it says greater staff involvement should not be used as an excuse for marginalising unions.
'We feel there is no room in the NHS for the type of 'partnership' with staff which excludes or sidelines trade unions,' it says.
One element of the report is that NHS staff should have paid cover when they take time off for trade union duties.
This was a 'core issue' in the taskforce's discussions, according to member Andrew Foster, who chairs the human resources committee of the NHS Confederation.
But the notion is buried in a recommendation that the NHS Executive should require all NHS bodies and contractors to demonstrate that 'all staff have personal development plans which include funded and protected time for staff involvement'.
MSF head of health Roger Kline welcomed the report. 'There is a completely different attitude towards staff, which values their opinions and says they should have ownership of the way the NHS is run,' he said.
But he was concerned at the extent to which the taskforce's recommendations would be accepted on the ground.
'The best trusts are already trying to do some of this. But there are others that will need a kick up the backside,' he said.