Aspiring Chief Executive programme


Applications for the Aspiring Chief Executive Programme have now closed.

Our highly successful Aspiring Chief Executive programme has been designed to deliver an exceptional development programme to prepare those aspiring to their first chief executive officer role. Those participants who demonstrate their readiness to become a chief executive by the end of the programme will gain the NHS Leadership Academy Chief Executive Award.

This is a challenging programme that requires commitment from you and your sponsoring trust/organisation. There is no guarantee of a chief executive post at the end of it, but the benefits of the programme are clear, with well over half of the graduates from the programme now in chief executive roles.

What’s covered

The Aspiring Chief Executive programme prepares people already working at board level to become chief executive officers.  Since the beginning, the focus has been on developing system-focused, compassionate, and inclusive chief executives. 

The programme has a number of key themes or ’golden threads’ that shape all content and delivery, and these will continue in the next cohorts of the programme, as well as the design pedagogy and the overarching learning objectives.  These are to develop leadership that:

  • Puts local populations, patients, service users and carers at the centre
  • Creates the right conditions for all staff to do their best work for those in their care
  • Is competent to run a complex organisation and is willing and able to collaborate with other system partners
  • Reduces inequalities and improves inclusion for all staff and service users, whatever their background

Who is it for?

The Aspiring Chief Executive programme is aimed at senior leaders aspiring to lead at chief executive level in an NHS accountable role focused on service provision and system development within the next 12-24 months.

This programme is likely to appeal to individuals who are currently executives (including managing directors) of NHS provider organisations, or exceptional individuals operating in senior systems leadership roles with responsibility for achieving significant organisational collaboration (e.g. ICBs/ICSs, Department of Health and Social Care, the 14 Arm’s Length Bodies, Local Authorities, Social Care,  Police Force, Fire service, Public Health, Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprises (VCSEs), and others).  

We welcome applicants who can demonstrate the skills, experience and qualities required to be credible candidates for leading an organisation at chief executive level within the next 12-24 months, taking responsibility for providing NHS services and achieving organisational collaboration across systems.

Why should I join the programme

  • To develop a strong and sustaining network of colleagues already in or aspiring to chief executive roles and to receive mentorship from senior members of NHS England
  • To enhance your ability to engage with patients, service users, carers, and families of all backgrounds, enabling person-centred care in the local environment
  • To develop your ability to contribute effectively to system leadership and to build on partnerships and local system working
  • To gain a full appreciation of the statutory and regulatory duties associated with an accountable officer role and a solid understanding of the regulatory and fiscal environment, and corporate governance
  • To gain real insight into the demands on a chief executive, including leading the development of strategy and organisational culture, managing an effective executive team, and navigating the key relationship with your chair
  • To be challenged to understand your biases, blind spots, and attitude to diversity and to demonstrate how you will lead actively to promote inclusion
  • To show your capacity to create a productive and inclusive culture for staff, irrespective of their background
  • To develop a critical awareness of your personal approach to leadership and the impact you have, defining your personal style, behaviour, and attitudes and readiness to lead change

The eligibility criteria for this development programme is based on the requirements of the role and the NHS Leadership Competency Framework. Applicants are not expected to meet all areas of the eligibility criteria, rather it is intended as a guide to support applicants in assessing their readiness and suitability for this programme alongside identified development areas.

Please note that we will be recruiting for two cohorts. Cohort 5 will be commencing in October 2024 and Cohort 6 will be commencing in February 2025. Exact dates TBC. Allocation of the cohorts will be confirmed following assessment centres to ensure diverse cohorts.

Find more Key Information here or if you are ready you can apply here.

Quote / Testimonial:

"There is real value in opening yourself up to reflect on the leader you are, the impact you currently have, and embracing the leader you want to become. I know the experience I have had will make me a better chief executive and, at the end of the day, that’s what our patients and staff deserve."

Cara Charles-Barks Chief Executive, Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust