NHS Senior Leadership Onboarding and Support

Aspirant Chair programme

There is emphatic evidence that diverse boards make the best decisions. We want to increase the diversity of our boards and particularly encourage interest from women, people from the local Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, LGBT communities, younger people and those with lived experience of disability, who we know are all under-represented in chair roles.

This programme is specifically intended for existing NHS provider non-executive directors, please visit the resources Thinking of applying to be an NHS provider non-executive director  if you don’t already hold a role.

Are you an NHS provider board non-executive director planning to apply for a Chair role in the next 12 to 18 months?

NHS England/Improvement recognises the vital role of chairs in leading NHS boards to deliver high quality healthcare and great patient experience. We also know that becoming an NHS provider chair requires a dynamic and strategic skill set coupled with public service values, and a commitment to the core mission of the NHS and its Constitution.

At a strategic level, as we move to systems working, the leadership role of chairs in NHS providers is key to the delivery of the Long Term Plan and the supporting People Plan, particularly Improving Leadership Culture.

NHS England/Improvement has developed the Aspirant Chair Programme to support the development of a pipeline of strong and diverse candidates for future chair roles on NHS provider boards. Several non-executive directors have stepped up to their first chair role following completion of this development programme. It builds the skills, experience and knowledge needed to become a chair, leading a high performing successful NHS organisation.

Cathy Elliot, Chair of Bradford District Care Trust, benefited from the programme – read her case study

“I was honoured to be offered the Chair role with Bradford District Care. Be prepared to be busy and little overwhelmed when you’re initially offered the role. There is much to take in and to do whilst it all being very exciting! Thanks to NHS England/NHS Improvement and my mentor for their support in reaching this point.”

The programme requires commitment and drive and you should be prepared to attend a series of five day events  over the course of the year plus time with your assigned mentor, time observing other relevant boards and meetings, and reflecting and writing up your learning to inform your development plan.

What are the benefits of the Aspirant Chair Programme?

The programme runs annually and looks to recruit round 35 individuals each year. In combination with your own drive and curiosity, the programme enables you to explore the different leadership styles and settings with relevant and robust governance in today’s NHS. Completing the programme will give you excellent insight and experience which will enhance your next chair role application.

What can I expect?

Development opportunities include:

  • Gaining a Chair mentor – We will match you with a trust board Chair from outside your immediate geographic area for individual support, guidance and inspiration throughout the programme, giving you feedback and suggestions
  • Programme of other board / committee observations – We will programme a range of opportunities to observe varied types of provider organisations and health systems to develop learning around the kind different leadership styles and governance models in practice
  • Five national network events – these regular events enable the Aspirant Chairs to engage in leadership learning, discuss hot topics along with role and organisational challenges, hear from subject matter experts, NHS national and regional leaders and share experiences and create a peer support network  
  • Chair application and interview coaching – We will organise coaching to help you prepare your application

What should I do next?

Those accepted onto the programme have usually already begun their journey to becoming a chair by engaging in broader development activities.

Before considering the programme, think about what you are already doing to support your development to make sure your skills and experience align with the Chair Competency Framework.  Speak with your chair about your ambition and development needs, and identify opportunities for increasing your profile and knowledge by:

  • forming personal networks with other non-executive directors and chairs across your local system. Alternatively, there are networks that are aimed specifically at protected characteristics that operate at a national level if that local support is not available; such as the Health & Care Women Leaders Network and the Seacole Group.
  • extending your governance knowledge across the range of trust committees and taking on committee chair roles
  • increasing your experience by becoming vice or deputy chair or the senior independent director if you are in a foundation trust
  • engaging with other local, regional and national bodies and with wider stakeholders in and outside the NHS to support their thinking and inform yours

Add yourself to our mailing list to be kept informed of chair and non executive director vacancies and the next cohort intake date.