Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to achieve a common goal1.

The conventional view is that doctors and nurses should look after patients while administrators look after organisations. Yet clinicians have a role in both providing care and finding ways to improve it at an individual, organisational and system level. This means adopting a new set of leadership behaviours – not as a one off task or project, but as a core part of professional identity. When doctors and other clinicians lead, patient care improves, and the organisation performs better financially and clinically2.  Practice managers, clerical and reception staff have an equally crucial leadership role.

The skills for primary care leaders

“Collective leadership” is where staff at all levels are empowered as individuals and in teams to act to improve care – ‘leadership of all, by all and for all’. This is in contrast to command and control cultures which are not conducive to achieving high quality care3.

To achieve collective leadership involves adopting a broad range of non-technical skills and behaviours to supplement clinical knowledge:4

  • Understanding how health care is provided, funded and the political, economic, social and technological drivers for change
  • Creating and communicating a vision, setting clear direction, service redesign and healthcare improvement, effective negotiation, awareness of both self and others, working collaboratively and networking
  • Balancing competing interests and priorities and placing the patient at the centre of decision-making, rather than the organisation
  • Managing oneself effectively and allowing others to lead (“followership”)
  • Demonstrating personal values and beliefs that impact positively on staff
  • Paying close attention to all staff, really understanding the situations they face, responding empathetically and taking thoughtful and appropriate action to help
  • Understanding people are different and progressing equality

Ways to develop medical leadership

Leadership skills are developed in a variety of ways, through courses, mentoring, coaching, networking, action learning, quality improvement projects and on the job, self-directed learning. Please select the courses and articles tabs to explore what these mean and what’s available.


  1. Commission on Leadership and Management in the NHS (2011) Kings Fund
  2. NHS Improvement (2016). Developing People – Improving care. Evidence-based national framework to guide action on improvement skill-building, leadership development and talent management for people in NHS-funded roles. https://improvement.nhs.uk/resources/developing-people-improving-care/
  3. Bohmer R, (2012)The instrumental value of medical leadership Kings Fund
  4. Mountford J, Webb C, Clinical leadership, unlocking high performance in health care. Mackinsey & company