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  • September 30, 2021
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Discussing Female Leadership with Charlotte Williams, Chief Strategy & Improvement Officer at Mid and South Essex


Studying biochemistry at University, Charlotte always wanted to be in science in some way or another. With both of her parents being Public Servants, Charlotte leaned towards government or charity work. After being introduced to the NHS as an opportunity by a friend undertaking the NHS management scheme, Charlotte joined the NHS just after completing her Masters and hasn’t looked back.

“I just love the fact that you get to make a difference every day and you get to work with such a range of people who are all just so driven and motivated and  committed to helping out really, to one another and their community.”

Although working outside of the NHS with UCL Partners, Charlotte has never really wanted to work anywhere other than the NHS.

With a strategy unit comprising mainly of data analysts working on predictive modelling and impact assessments, Charlotte has deliberately recruited analysts from backgrounds in the police, social care, education and public health sectors because of their knowledge of diverse and wider community data, improving understanding of the economy and population health

Running parallel to that strategy team is the MSE Innovation team that focuses on understanding the impact of new devices, processes and digital solutions, testing these and evaluating them in practice alongside local and national health and care innovators.

Finally, Charlotte leads the Trust and System improvement and change teams, supporting and enabling project work like continuous improvement projects and redesign programmes, from the frontline of care all the way up to  strategic developments around relocating services and buildings.

Success Regime & COVID Response

Back in 2015, the NHS in Mid and South Essex was brought together into what was considered to be a struggling system by NHS England, and was put into a special arrangement called Success Regime. Since that time through working together, the hospitals have now developed a shared clinical strategy and merged into one large Trust. Over the last five years, both in terms of the hospital’s collaboration, and particularly their work on COVID, the turnaround has been quite astonishing.

Joining just one year after the Trusts started working together, Charlotte has seen it through a large consultation with the public and politicians  about changing services, and supported this to progress while coordinating the COVID response.

As with many leaders in the NHS, this past year was perhaps one of the most challenging periods of Charlotte’s career, helping progress the vision and strategy for the hospital and navigate the COVID-19 pandemic impacts. Despite the growing togetherness of the newly merged trusts, with changing legislation and a need to remain agile and creative, there remains a significant amount of ambiguity to manage.

“If you don’t take a sort of pragmatic attitude to using what you know to plot a path through ambiguity, that can sometimes be quite stressful. I really enjoy working here, but it’s a constant challenge, the NHS is a challenging place to work at the moment”

Don’t Underestimate Technical Skills

One of the amazing parts of doing a series like this is the sheer range of people I get to talk to on a daily basis. Despite the changes in their expertise and experiences, they’re all leading teams at the highest level of the NHS.

With that in mind, I’m always keen to hear what our contributor’s thoughts are on what skills are needed when it comes to leading technical teams – specifically, how important technical knowledge is to the leading and management of technical professionals

For Charlotte, you don’t need to be a technician to be a technical leader, but you do need an appreciation of the need to invest and improve to release the value technology has for change.

“You shouldn’t underestimate the technical skills that people need to have. Sometimes we think we can just find a workaround. Actually, it is that specific knowledge that you really do need to pay for to secure and I think that starts with an appreciation for the value of technical skills and competence.”

Historically, the NHS has tried to carry itself forward, looking at what they do today and asking how can it be improved rather than thinking about the requirements needed for success.

“We don’t have a design focus, the way that tech, you know, traditionally the tech sector would do and so as a result, we probably waste a lot of money on partial solutions, when we could be designing something more interesting or more radical.”

Have an Open Mind and be Willing to Embrace Different Perspectives

Like with most things, bringing in diversity of thought can only benefit the development of digital solutions within the NHS. The willingness to embrace different perspectives and learn new things from different industries is a skill that Charlotte values highly in NHS technical leaders.

With low levels of technical maturity, old systems and ageing infrastructure, it can be hard to keep up to date with the latest skills. Instead of doing what everyone else was doing over the past 10 years and gradually improving and repeating, Charlotte believes the NHS should be able to leap forward and look at the rest of world and ask how they can get there as quickly as possible.

“You have to have that mindset which isn’t focused on building up from the bottom. In technology, you have to think what is the expectation of where we are today and then think about future-proofing. We tend to have a clash of infrastructure versus application. And I think that actually, we need to think more about the application and the user experience, and then think about the necessary technology and  infrastructure rather than the other way around.”

There’s a lot of Human Work Required

We asked Charlotte for her advice for those coming into the NHS.

“A lot of people think they’re going to discover the next big thing overnight, and others will agree if the case is strong enough. Ultimately, if something is going to last and be sustainable then there’s quite a lot of social and human work required. So although we are in the tech industry, it’s got to work in a complex human system, only enabled by bringing people along and understanding the organisational context.”

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