two women leaders

Developing senior leaders to navigate through challenging times

In conjunction with our partner Common Purpose, we successfully designed and delivered a Senior Leaders Development programme to support senior leaders in navigating the turbulent times of both a global pandemic and a changing NHS landscape, enabling these leaders to build new collaborative relationships and learn from others both within and outside of the NHS.  


In early 2021, Transformation Directorate at NHS England (previously NHSX) wanted to understand the leadership challenges and development requirements of the senior leaders across their organisation (Executive Senior Managers, Senior Civil Servants, and band 9 senior leaders). What support was needed to deliver the extensive portfolio of digital programmes and services across the NHS? Programmes that were crucially needed to support digitisation and transformation of patient services nationally. 

To investigate they conducted a survey amongst the organisation’s most senior leaders.

The results of the survey revealed key themes that would support these senior leaders to enhance their leadership capabilities in the challenging context of the global pandemic and the changing landscape of the health and care sector. But who could deliver this programme? 

Transformation Directorate at NHS England approached SCW’s organisational development team to support the design and delivery of a Senior Leaders Development programme to address the key themes emerging from the survey of leaders and provide a sustainable model of continued shared learning for the future. 


SCW, in partnership with Common Purpose – a not-for-profit social enterprise, worked jointly with our key sponsors within NHSx to design, and subsequently deliver, the Transformation Directorate at NHS England Senior Leaders Development Programme to c.35 senior leaders during the period from April 2021 to December 2021. 

We proposed a design that incorporated a number of elements: 

  • A series of virtual learning workshops featuring guest speakers from outside the NHS to share senior leadership experiences focused on specific themes identified from the survey 
  • Specialist skills development sessions to support senior leaders in navigating their national roles effectively
  • Action Learning Support Groups, to share learning and experiences to capitalise on learning from the series of workshops, and to create a peer support network for the future
  • Support mechanisms to enable senior leaders to define further development needs and challenges specific to each individual, for future development planning at corporate level. 

These design concepts were tested with our sponsors and a selection of senior leaders to refine the requirements, before developing the programme in detail. 

Between May and July 2021, we facilitated four interactive workshops covering the themes of:

  • Leading in uncertain times
  • Leading remote teams successfully
  • System leadership 
  • Adapting to new environments

Each workshop featured a senior leader guest speaker from outside of the NHS, who shared their experiences and learning from their own leadership journeys. The guest speakers were senior leaders in a range of different organisations including a charity, an online private sector organisation, an arts organisation, and an overseas maximum-security prison facility. 

Following the workshops, we invited senior leaders to attend Action Learning Support group sessions to distil their learning, share recent experiences and create their own peer group network for the future.  

The workshops and the Action Learning groups were facilitated remotely due to Covid restrictions. 


  • The Senior Leaders Development programme has acted as a catalyst for creating more regular connections between senior leaders. It has also instilled a more proactive approach to the continued development of leadership skills and capabilities.
  • Each of the individual components of the Senior Leaders Development Programme was well received by those who participated in them.
  • The facilitated workshops and action learning support group sessions enabled senior leaders to achieve a number of outcomes:
    • The opportunity to network with other senior colleagues who they may never have met previously due to remote working restrictions
    • Creating much-needed time and space to focus specifically on leadership challenges, away from the strategic and operational pressures of senior leadership
    • Gaining fresh perspectives from senior leaders outside the NHS who had experienced similar leadership challenges 
    • Exploring new learning approaches, tools and techniques for managing self and others in uncertain times
    • Building and establishing relationships with others from different parts of NHSx through the shared learning process of the programme
  • The subsequent merger of NHSx into the Transformation directorate of NHS England & Improvement has given the senior leaders an excellent opportunity to test and hone their newly developed skills

To find out more, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Organisational Development Programme Director



Related articles

More case studies