• NHS Leadership Academy managing director stresses importance of not discarding chief executives’ knowledge
  • Diversity on the front line needs to be matched by leadership, says Stephen Hart
  • Academy retained flat funding but made redundancies
  • Confirms plans for expansion with talent management team

Being accountable for failure is a risk senior NHS leaders must take, the managing director of the NHS Leadership Academy has told HSJ.

But he warned it was important not to “discard” senior managers’ knowledge and experience after they have made mistakes.

Stephen Hart cropped

Stephen Hart said the NHS needs to ”make jobs attractive” to potential new leaders

Stephen Hart, who joined Health Education England and the NHS Leadership Academy in 2016, also stressed the NHS needs to make sure the diversity of its front line workforce is matched by its leadership. The academy became part of HEE in 2015.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Hart said: “If someone is personally culpable for failure, one of the most important things [about] leadership is accountability.

“And where it is due to circumstances beyond someone’s control it is right we take a compassionate approach and support colleagues to be the best can be to take on another role.”

He emphasised the need to be careful “where [there] is an individual accountability issue and that individual must be removed from the service [and] where there is an issue of probity”.

“If someone has been appointed to a chief executive role, it is likely they have a huge amount to offer. We should be careful before we discard that knowledge and experience in the service,” he said.

His comments follow NHS Improvement chair Baroness Harding saying earlier this month the regulator would stop “recycling” senior NHS managers who cross “a moral line”.

Baroness Harding also said she was “shocked” by the lack of senior talent management in the NHS and cited the Foreign Office and armed forces as areas of the public sector that managed talent in a “more structured and rigorous way”.

Mr Hart, who spent 20 years in the Royal Marines and in leadership roles at the Defence Academy, said it was important to build future senior leadership that was “more representative” of the front line.

He said: “Traditional ways of identifying top talent ends up with people who look a bit like me rising to the top of the organisation. At the forefront of our mind will be how a more inclusive leadership better reflects the diversity of the service.”

He said it was important to communicate routes into leadership and “make these jobs attractive” to engage new leaders.

“I think there is a process question: how we manage those colleagues as a regional national resource. Rather than the NHS competing with itself for talent, we are instead collaborating for talent,” he added.

Mr Hart explained how the Leadership Academy was created from “the echoes of the leadership development teams”, which included 11 organisations. He said every local academy still retains a steering group.

There were redundancies at HEE as part of the restructure. Mr Hart said although “a number of colleagues” at the academy took redundancy, it was able to sustain flat funding. “That was really good news for us,” he said.

Mr Hart said the Leadership Academy is going through an “exciting expansion” and “building a team around talent management”.

He also highlighted areas where the NHS can learn from the military in terms of leadership.

Mr Hart said: “Sometimes in the NHS people get promoted because they were really good at their last job but don’t necessarily get development on how to do their next job really well. Leadership in the military is seen and felt as part of everyone’s core business.”

However, he insisted the NHS excels in “sharing between different specialisms in a really collaborative way”.

“You see a letting go of organisational primacy. I see that more commonly in the NHS [than in the military],” he added.