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Go for it

Leaders come from many walks of life. Joanna Lyall talks to three pioneering physios about what inspires them

Physiotherapist Ed Tallis, has some straightforward words of guidance for any physios considering a leadership role. His advice?  'Go for it.'

His view is that the risks you think about before taking on a new job never seem as daunting once you are into it, and there is always immense potential for learning. He comments: 'You have an opportunity to see things from a new perspective and develop new skills. And of course there is always a challenge.'

And he adds: 'Be confident. Physios have a huge amount of personal skills and are adaptive. What is there to lose?'

Mr Tallis is accustomed to challenge and change. In 2002, he made physiotherapy history by being the first allied health professional (AHP) to be appointed chair of a professional executive committee (PEC). He was PEC chair of Carlisle and District primary care trust (PCT) until last October.

Today his job title is assistant director of service development for Calderfield and Huddersfield trust: he is on six months secondment from his post as physiotherapy manager at Eden Valley PCT. 

During his time as PEC chair, he was also studying for a management degree (an MBA with the Open University), as well as serving as a member of a mountain rescue service, and as a parish councillor.  Of his masters of business administration degree he says it's 'highly recommended for anyone considering a leadership role, because you learn skills you can put into practice immediately.'

Mr Tallis says he found chairing the PEC fulfilling and very stimulating; as he notes 'there was a chance to make a real difference to local services'. He gives the example of the PCT commissioning a night nursing service, which reduced emergency admissions to hospital. 

He adds: 'I learned a huge amount about organisational politics, and how the NHS works at a much broader level than I had seen before. I learned about balancing different perspectives to come up with a corporate view.'

Drivers for growth

His original motivation to take on a leadership role was, he says,  'because I like to plan, have a voice, and be at the forefront of things.' He believes he gained credibility by being able to talk to people from different professional groups, by facilitating training events, and taking the opportunity to speak at conferences. For him, the essential qualities of a good leader are: flexibility, honesty, openness and commitment. 

Physio Fran Woodard advises would-be leaders to draw strength from the inspiration of others. She advises: 'You need to watch leaders, be prepared to go beyond your comfort zone and develop networking skills.'

She is also a keen sailor, as her inspirational reading list reveals. It includes: Nelson Mandela's biography, Long Walk to Freedom; Global Challenge: Leadership Lessons from the World's Toughest Yacht Race, by Humphrey Walters, Peter Mackie, Rosie Mackie and Andrea Bacon; and Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell.

For Ms Woodard, the crucial qualities for good leadership are credibility, emotional intelligence (see page 12), readiness to admit when you don't know something, political awareness and consistency.

Of the latter - consistency - she has the following to say. When she left her job as director of therapy services at St Mary's trust, London to become director of the AHP and healthcare scientists leadership programme at the Modernisation Agency, she took a staff comment on her leaving card - 'Thank you for being so consistent. We always knew how you would react' - as a great tribute. As she observes: 'There's nothing worse than coming into work, and always having to worry what sort of mood someone is in.'

From early in her career, Ms Woodard says she always enjoyed 'facilitating, teaching and empowering'. She took on a national leadership role because she wanted to help realise her goals for the profession. 'The overall vision is about leading edge practice which is fit for purpose, physios providing forward thinking, patient-focused services.'  Ms Woodard has an MBA from the Open University, and is undertaking a doctorate in leading change. She is also a council member of the CSP.

Raising your profile

Talking at conferences or to special interest groups, and developing a database of contacts are two of the ways in which would-be leaders can raise their profile. Ms Woodard gives many talks, however, she is not complacent. Each time she gives a presentation she asks a couple of people she knows in the audience to tell her two things that went well and two she could improve on. She cautions though, 'don't become so concerned with the process that you lose the passion'.

Natalie Beswetherick has a number of leadership roles. She is general manager for trauma, orthopaedic and orthotic services, at Gloucestershire Hospitals foundation trust, as well being a governor of the foundation trust. She is also former vice president and chair of the CSP, and was awarded an OBE in 2003 for services to physiotherapy. She believes she has developed credibility as a leader by delivering on some very tough access targets at the trust where she works and being able to work across organisations to improve services.

Mrs Beswetherick identifies political astuteness as a key quality of effective leaders.  'A leader needs to be able to "play the game" and have insight into what's in it for others in the game,' she says. However, her view is also that persuasiveness and the ability to carry people with you are additional important characteristics.

'In many leadership roles you have no line management responsibility, so no authority to mandate someone to do something,' she points out.  'You need to be able to persuade with an array of techniques.'   

In the service she manages this involves building rapport with staff from several backgrounds and working with their desire to provide the best clinical care. Effective leaders must also encourage feedback and encourage ownership of plans and objectives, she comments. 

Mrs Beswetherick puts this principle into practice. Her department holds an annual service delivery day, which is attended by more than 150 staff, who are invited to describe what they consider their achievements of the previous year, and to draw up their objectives for the coming 12 months. 

She says: 'This allows staff to develop their strategic skills and they really enjoy it. All grades of staff attend, and it encourages ownership of plans.  And each year staff have exceeded the goals they set themselves.' 

Working together effectively to renew services, this is what is at the heart of inspirational, transforming leadership in action.


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Article Information


Joanna Lyall

Issue date

1 April 2005

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