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How professionals can lead networks in the NHS

Rebecca Malby (Centre for Innovation in Health Management, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Kieran Mervyn (Centre for Innovation in Health Management, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Luca Pirisi (Centre for Innovation in Health Management, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)

International Journal of Leadership in Public Services

ISSN: 1747-9886

Article publication date: 11 November 2013



The largest organisation in the western world, the UK National Health Service (NHS), might be best viewed as a network of interdependent organisations. However, the public has only recently begun to see it as a living network. Public reforms and financial crises have increased the need for professionals to innovate and improve their role. The overarching question is how this new clinical leadership can positively affect the functioning of the system and its performance. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to clarify how leaders can be most effective in managing health networks.


A pragmatic approach was taken because of the topical and strategic importance of networks and leadership in the current climate, and hence a need for greater understanding of this largely unknown phenomenon. A focus group interview with Organisational Development experts from the Centre for Innovation and Health Management (CIHM) at Leeds University Business School was followed by three scoping reviews and high-level follow-up conversations with CIHM members, network leaders from the NHS and third sectors.


Issues that have emerged include: how networks are designed; which factors enhance its likelihood of success and predicate its failure; discussions of illuminating effective leadership.

Research limitations/implications

The Stories of Effective Leadership Networks were provided by the network founders, who may have sought to emphasise the benefits (as opposed to downside) of their network. An ideal scenario would have been the inclusion of patients and carers and perhaps administrative staff to reduce bias.


Considering the limited evidence base from the literature about medical leadership for network management, the involvement of network leaders and the ability to draw-upon CIHMs knowledge and expertise has been fundamental for determining lessons that may enhance the leadership function of the UK's health system network.



Malby, R., Mervyn, K. and Pirisi, L. (2013), "How professionals can lead networks in the NHS", International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 9 No. 1/2, pp. 47-58.



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