Siobhan Melia joined Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust in 2013 as interim head of strategy. After only three years, she became the CEO, having worked as deputy chief executive at a time when the trust achieved a CQC ‘good’ rating and was autorised to become a foundation trust.
A supporter of the Health & Care Women Leaders Network, she tells Healthcare Leader of her experience of working as a woman in the NHS.
How long have you worked in the NHS?
I have worked in the NHS since 1996, when I graduated as a podiatrist. I worked as a clinician for the first 11 years of my career and then moved into a range of operational management and strategic leadership roles. These included director of business and strategy, which also gave me the opportunity to complete a part time master’s in business administration (MBA) degree.
I decided to explore new opportunities in 2011 and joined Telefonica – a global telecommunications company – to lead their UK Telehealth division. I rejoined the NHS in 2013 in a range of commercial and partnership roles before becoming chief executive in 2016. I have therefore worked for a total of 21 years in the NHS…so far!
What has your experience been of working in the NHS?
I love working in the NHS, it makes me feel both proud and humbled. The moment I started work as a frontline clinician in 1996, I appreciated the values, teamwork and dedication of the people that make the NHS what it is. I still feel that now in my role as CEO.
I have had a fantastic and varied career in the NHS, with a breadth of clinical opportunities in the early part of my career that helped me to develop communication skills and personal resilience. Moving into management and leadership roles gave me enthusiasm to do my best to lead teams effectively, as well as to do my best for patients.
I soon realised the difference that I could make in a senior leadership role. This created a personal ambition to become a CEO and to continue to do my best to enable others to thrive. I have always been able to keep patient care at the heart of what I do. Working with colleagues who do their best to help others has been a constant and motivational theme in every role that I have undertaken.
Have you faced any barriers to career progression? If so, how were they overcome?
The barriers to career progression that I have faced have only been internal, in that on two occasions I have doubted whether I could or should apply for a promotion.
On the first occasion, I discussed this with my line manager and we agreed a personal development plan that included the Athena executive leadership programme, which was targeted at female leaders in the public sector. This was a pivotal experience for me, where I developed insights about my presence, confidence and gravitas. I was also part of a network of female leaders that enabled me to further explore issues through regular learning set coaching sessions. The outcome was that I was successfully promoted to a business and strategy director role.
On the second occasion, I had been deputy CEO for six weeks when my CEO resigned. While I knew that I wanted to be a CEO, I felt that the opportunity came too soon. I overcame those thoughts through executive coaching sessions, which helped me to develop the inner strength and confidence to apply for the CEO role. Three years later, I still consider those coaching conversations to have been a seminal moment for me.
Siobhan is a supporter of the Health & Care Women Leaders Network, a free network for women working across health and care delivered by NHS Confederation and NHS Employers. If you are a senior or aspiring female leader, join the network to connect with colleagues via events and tweet chats, and share learning through blogs and key reports