8 ways to build your leadership skills

Leadership is the ability to socially influence and maximise the efforts of others towards the achievement of a greater good. For leadership to be effective it needs to be both collective and compassionate. Individuals need to be able to listen, understand and empathise in all interactions, ensuring high quality, patient-centred care drives organisational culture.

Within healthcare, this requires leaders from across the healthcare system, including front-line pharmacy professionals, who understand the reality of the challenges that the system faces and are empowered to provide solutions to these challenges. 

Here are some practical ways that pharmacy professionals can develop their leadership skills within any stage of their career.


Self-reflection and awareness are important skills to have as a leader. Finding the right leadership style and strengths as well as areas to develop should be a continuous task. There are many tools that can help with this, such as the CliftonStrengths assessment and the NHS Leadership Academy feedback tool. These self-assessments can help towards building and understanding yourself as a leader. 

Seek out opportunities 

Developing your leadership skills may involve increasing your discretionary effort. There is always an opportunity to go above what is asked of you. For example, take on an extra project to supervise junior team members or consider carrying out a service evaluation and make suggestions on how processes can be improved.

If you are unsure of the additional opportunities that may be available to you, discuss this with your manager who can help guide you with regards to your development.  

Influence change

Although it can be challenging to influence new ways of working, success lies in aligning yourself with organisational and national priorities and demonstrating the ability to adapt to different situations. There is no single leadership style which will work across all situations; this must be adapted as you grow throughout your career. Collaborating with others across the wider healthcare system to develop services to support patient-centred care will enhance patients’ experiences as well as provide you with greater credibility in service improvement.

Taking a patient-centred approach is influential in winning hearts and minds and is at the core of effective leadership and creating a compassionate culture

There are both informal and formal opportunities to pitch your ideas and via various methods, including presentations, an elevator pitch or a briefing paper. Early use of these skills alongside confidence and competence can contribute to early gains.

Taking a patient-centred approach is influential in winning hearts and minds and is at the core of effective leadership and creating a compassionate culture. Communicating and articulating your vision with emotional intelligence is key.  

Undertake self-directed learning

Your on-the-job experience will go a long way towards developing your leadership skills, but in order to consolidate and expand your learning, read around the subject. This can be both inspiring and motivating. At the start of your leadership journey you are likely to come across unexpected challenges, therefore relevant material can help you pre-empt these and ultimately contribute to your leadership potential. 

There is plenty of information available in the form of books, podcasts and blogs (some suggestions are below) which, taken in conjunction with your practical experience, can help you retain your learning.

  • Peter Lees: VUCA
    How to be a leader in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous modern world.

Find yourself a mentor 

Mentoring is a developmental partnership through which one person shares knowledge, skills, information and perspective to foster the personal and professional growth of someone else.

Mentoring provides a safe haven to explore professional development and work-based issues. The mentor provides a sounding board for difficult decisions, an independent view, access to knowledge and experience and someone to encourage you when things are not going well. 

Having a mentor can bring several benefits to your professional practice. Not only does it give you access to a senior role model who can empower you to excel, they can also help you achieve your career goals and identify areas for development. This can lead to increased confidence, job-related wellbeing, self-esteem and heightened career aspirations through providing a broader perspective on career opportunities.

There are several organisations that can support you if you are seeking mentorship. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has just launched an online mentoring platform which will match mentees with mentors based on individual needs and the skills and experience of the mentors. Resources are embedded within the platform to support mentees and mentors to get the most out of the mentoring relationship.

The London Leadership Academy also offers an online portal to match mentors with mentees as well as offline support. The programme allows working beyond professional and organisational boundaries, to develop wider understanding and recognise the ‘bigger picture’. 

The Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management (FMLM) mentoring scheme is unique as it offers access to support from across FMLM’s diverse membership base which encompasses a variety of specialities and career grades from undergraduates to senior medical managers. Members can obtain guidance on topics including careers advice, growing a support network, leadership development opportunities and support as a future clinical fellow. 

Enrol in a leadership course

There is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates leadership development across the healthcare sector improves patient care particularly through resources published by the Kings Fund. There are many higher education institutions offering formal qualifications in healthcare leadership and management which provide a great foundation for pharmacy leaders. 

An essential part of being a pharmacy leader is reflecting on one’s own experiences to identify gaps in knowledge and skills and look for opportunities that would bridge these gaps. This reflection can be facilitated with peers, mentors and coaches and should be completed before applying (and paying) for leadership and management courses. Consider how you will use the theory gained in your current and future roles and how these courses will support you and your patients.

Another opportunity for the NHS pharmacy workforce is to access funded leadership courses. The  NHS Leadership Academy aims to develop talented individuals and to “grow its own” leaders within the NHS. Programmes cater to a wide cross-section of the NHS workforce from newly qualified practitioners up to aspiring chief executives. These programmes will provide you with leadership skills as well as an understanding of the political landscape of healthcare provision at a local and national level. 

The key to the NHS leadership programmes is the opportunity to apply your learning in clinical practice to benefit your patients and services. This includes critically reflecting on your leadership, applying theory via practice-based projects and receiving feedback from your peers and teams to identify areas of leadership development.

The CPPE Leading for Change programme was created by Pavitar Gandham, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s clinical fellow in 2016-17. The programme provides leadership theories, tools and models to use within pharmacy practice alongside tangible experiences and tasks designed to support development.  

The NHS Leadership Academy and CPPE’s Leading for Change programmes involve self-directed online platforms together with face-to-face residential days which enable networking and provide learners with a cohort of support for not only the duration of the programme but also going forward in their careers.

Think about who is in your current support network, and who in your locality inspires you and can help you with your leadership journey. Having a support network of trusted peers is invaluable when facing leadership challenges and when looking to innovate and change services.

Broaden your horizons

Opportunities to develop leadership skills doesn’t always have to be found in work environments. Extracurricular activities can also support your leadership skills. Team and individual sports, hobbies, volunteering and travelling can all help development of leadership skills as well as provide work-life balance that is an important aspect of resilience. Reflecting on your leadership gaps will help identify what you could additionally do, but always make sure that you have an interest in any commitments you make to ensure you and others gain the most benefit.

Work-life balance, resilience and wellbeing

Leadership roles in pharmacy will always have associated responsibilities and expectations, so cultivating resilience and nurturing well-being is required to enable leaders to prioritise, support others, innovate services and to prevent burn out. It is important to understand the value of being present for patients at work but also keeping a balance with your own personal interests. Research shows that where NHS trusts prioritise staff health and wellbeing and actively engage with staff to develop work in this area, levels of engagement increase, as does staff morale, loyalty, innovation and productivity, all resulting in higher quality patient care.

Leaders are required across the healthcare system, including front-line pharmacy professionals, who understand the reality of the challenges that the system faces and are empowered to provide solutions to these challenges. We hope that this article has equipped you with some practical tools to take your leadership journey forward.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the UKCPA or its members. We encourage readers to follow links and references to primary research papers and guidance.

Competing interest statement: 

The author declares: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.


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