NHS Senior Leadership Onboarding and Support

Chairs and Non-Executive Directors

Board meeting

As a chair or a non-executive director you bring a huge range of expertise to the board you have joined. Balancing the operational focus and day to day expertise of the CEO and executive directors; chairs and non-executive directors bring an external perspective, creating a very different dynamic and offering a unique perspective towards corporate governance, risk management and succession planning, amongst other areas. 

It is anticipated, like other newly appointed board leaders, that you will access the resources of the five main themes on the landing page for your general onboarding support. You will wish to fully explore the Understanding the NHS and governance theme, which includes  key policy documents such as the Long Term Plan which broadly sets the environment in which your board will operate within. It also gives resources around the oversight and regulation of the NHS which are key to your role. You may also find the digital resources and social media page useful.

Hosting a NED of the future

Your trust can support the development of the NHS non-executive talent pipeline by becoming part of the NExT Director Programme . Through a hosting arrangement, the programme enables talented people from under-represented groups to gain exposure and experience of working with an NHS board, which enables them to compete confidently for non-executive director roles in the future. If you are interested in being a host trust please email [email protected].

I commend the NExT Director programme to all chairs, both selfishly as a means of helping future diverse succession into your own Trust, and altruistically in developing the NED talent pool for the NHS as a whole. They bring a freshness of enquiry and perspective, and in my own experience evidence the latent depth and breadth of interest and commitment to serve on NHS boards among these key groups

Ian Peters, Chair, Barts Health NHS Trust

Though aimed at chairs and non executives, the resources to the side and the top tips below are also useful for Governing Body lay members and Primary Care Network clinical directors.

Blog: “Developing NHS Trust Chief Executives – where do Chairs fit in?” Kings Fund, Sept 2018

Top tips for Chairs and NEDs

  • Take the time to get to know your organisation – history, challenges and opportunities, think about what is important to the people in your local community
  • Take time the time to get to know your executive and non executive colleagues
  • Hone skills on challenging constructively to ensure you and others are reflecting on experience and improving.
  • Be mindful of the public context you are working in – preparation and discussion prior is key.
  • Take the opportunity to meet patients and carers; the mantra in the NHS is “ward to board” for a reason.
  • Triangulate information – what are sources telling you over time and how do they relate to each other, use Making Data Count resources – Strengthening your decisions.
  • Connect with the workforce whenever possible – in the café, on visits… stay curious.
  • Focus on asking what this means for patients and workforce to boil down large quantities of data and papers.
  • Make sure that there is real multidisciplinary and clinical input – in the best organisations, front line teams and clinicians have perspectives that unlock the answers to problems
  • Celebrate the work your organisation does, be an ambassador out in the community and when you hear about problems or complaints get as full a picture as possible.
  • Ask a member of staff or a service user to mentor you to gain insight and perspectives – see the reverse mentoring resources on this site
  • If you are a chair or non-executive director in a Foundation Trust – take time to get to know your Lead Governor and attend the Council of Governors meetings

Top tips for managing your own learning

  • Meet your mentor before your meetings to identify key issues and requirements. Following the meeting consider what went well and what could be even better, constructive challenge and clarity of decision making.
  • Make sure that you get the opportunity to learn from both the executive and non-executive team members.
  • Remember that the non-executive director role is all about influencing and not doing. Use your time to hone your influencing skills. Practice asking open questions to get full answers.
  • Start a portfolio of achievements and development needs to support appraisal and personal development.
  • Focus on your accountability while taking a strategic view. Resist the urge to get sucked into every issue or you will spread yourself too thin.