#OTalk 16th June 2020 – Leadership? What me!

This week Natalie Jones @natlouj and Dee Christie @OTinretirement will be hosting this what they had to say. 

growth mindset

In 2018 Karin Orman RCOT’s Lead Professional Advisor posted a blog about Leadership in Occupational Therapy, challenging us ‘to think differently about how we grow leadership within the profession and to start thinking about ourselves as leaders.’ Karin hits on an issue which is important to me. “We may have, in many areas of practice, lost our traditional management structure but that does not have to mean we lose leadership within the profession”. 

I recently wrote an article about this in OTnews (Jones 2019) describing my voyage into professional leadership. This challenge from Karin resonates with my experience of therapy management structures. Over the last ten years we have moved towards integrated teams and allied health professional leadership has taken root. Which means single profession line management is no longer the ‘norm,’ you are more than likely to be managed and led by someone from another professional background and this brings both challenges and new opportunities. Occupational Therapists that don’t have a professional led talk about ‘not having a voice’, or the ‘OT voice is not loud enough’.  This makes it more important to think about and reflect on opportunities to lead and influence, regardless of the organisational structures you work in.

It’s no accident that the 3rd pillar of the RCOT Career Development Framework is leadership. It starts at entry level where newly qualified OTs can act as role models to promote the profession and find ways to lead by sharing their unique contribution to occupational therapy. Right through to level nine where executive leadership is described as ‘Lead and influence the political and economic

climate, locally, nationally and internationally, which impacts on service delivery’.  The last column in the framework is titled ‘mind-set’. It’s this word that I would like us to reflect on in today’s #OTalk. 

What is a leadership mindset? Do you have one? You might recognize the traits in yourself or others? It’s interesting to reflect firstly on ‘what does a good leadership mind-set look like?’ You will have positive roles models that have influenced your career, you will have also experienced the converse and perhaps can describe what this looks and feels like. It’s worth taking some time to explore what qualities and values you would like to lead with? Once you have identified these you can then think about creating opportunities for yourself to develop your skills and knowledge aligned to your leadership aspirations, thereby creating ‘the leadership mind-set’. 

All too often I have observed excellent Occupational Therapists at all levels in their career, that have a lack of self and professional confidence. Despite the apparent evidence of competence, the imposter syndrome (IS) hits.  Chris Lake describes imposter syndrome (IS) in his blog on leadership and self-doubt. https://www.leadershipacademy.nhs.uk/blog/leadership-doubt-and-humility/

“You’ll remain convinced that you do not deserve the success you’ve achieved, dismissing this as luck or fortuitous timing”. Psychologists might describe the phenomenon as ‘failing to internalise your accomplishments, unable to believe that you yourself are deserving of the position you’ve achieved’. How often have you brushed off a complement? Chris offers some tips for when IS strikes, ‘believe that it’s normal and look around the department at those you admire, and know they’ll experience this too’. 

If you identify with imposter syndrome, how do you build personal and professional confidence so that you feel able to take leadership opportunities when they come along? What tips do you have to share with others about how you have overcome the nagging and disabling self-doubt? If you were mentoring yourself on leadership mind-sets and building self-confidence ‘what would you tell yourself’? If you’re not able to hold up the mirror and do some self-reflection, what about getting a leadership mentor?  A mentor with the experience, skills and knowledge to provide you with constructive feedback and a friendly listening ear. They don’t need to be from the same profession as you. A mentor is someone who will nurture you as a leader, help you see different perspectives and at times help you wrestle with the imposter syndrome monster who lives under the bed. I have had several mentors and role models which haven’t been Occupational Therapists, however they have brought to the relationship many other skills, qualities and experiences that were valuable and supported my leadership development. 

Perhaps you are already on the leadership journey and can share with the #OTalk community some examples of ways in which you have developed as a leader? What strategies have you tried and tested in your leadership journey so far? 

What opportunities are there for you to experience leadership in your role. Novel and new opportunities open you up to situations and people you would normally not get exposure to. What about trying a ‘shadow board’ where you emulate an executive board with peers using the same papers and have your own ‘mini’ board to experience what the conversations might be like and explore new points of view? These experiences could add richness to your leadership development, gaining new skills and knowledge. 

Occupational Therapists are natural problem solvers and with a dash of creativity I’m sure you can contribute ideas for others about how to develop learning opportunities and environments, which will be added value to the leadership voyage. So, if we put our collective brains together, can we come up with some new and novel activities for continuing professional development, to enhance leadership skills and knowledge?

There have never been more opportunities for Occupational Therapists to move into leadership roles. From leading a Band 5 peer support group, to pioneering in a new and emerging roles, to AHP Director roles in the NHS and Principle OT roles in Social Care. Stuart Palma, Head of Allied Health Professions (professional leadership) at NHS England and NHS Improvement produced some recommends that the NHS starts to explore having Chief AHP within their organisations, creating greater visibility at board level. There are already OTs taking up these positions. https://improvement.nhs.uk/resources/investing-chief-allied-health-professionals/  we must be ready!

So why is ‘mind-set important in leadership? A growth leadership mind-set is a belief that you can change, develop and improve your leadership skills. Research has shown that those with a growth ‘mind-set’ are mentally prepared to take on challenges, adapt to feedback and adopt effective problem-solving’.  As a leader I am continually learning and motivated towards self-improvement. Mastering leadership skills to create a toolbox which helps with mental preparedness when engaging with new and difficult situations. I am opening minded about taking opportunities that don’t always come with the ‘OT’ job title. Stepping out of the professional comfort zone is a risk, but it can work out to be the best risk you ever took. Last year I took an opportunity to work in an integrated care system workforce hub, to support workforce innovation and development This was completely different to anything I’d ever done before but I found my self-utilising every skill in the tool box labelled ‘leadership’. I managed to influence the development of Occupational Therapy roles in primary care, which resulted in a primary care network employing an OT for a frailty project. A ‘small change’ which I hope will have a ‘big impact’ and ripple effects for years to come. 

Experience of leadership coaching has taught me that taking time to reflect and explore my own leadership mind-set is a good starting point for a developing leader. Opportunities for OTs to be ‘loud and proud’, have their voice heard and be present in the room are abundant but we need to first of all create ‘a leadership mind-set,’ to be able to grasp and seek out these opportunities.

This #OTalk is in collaboration with Dee Christie Chair of the Elizabeth Casson Trust. https://elizabethcasson.org.uk/about-us/ The trusts strategic intensions include helping to develop leaders in occupational therapy with the capability of taking the profession forwards within the context in which it needs to operate. The Elizabeth Casson trust considers leadership within the profession to be the ability to envision, articulate and clearly demonstrate by example the scope and benefits of occupational therapy to individuals and society as a whole thereby positively promulgating the profession to as wide an audience as possible”.


  1. what does good leadership ‘mind-set’ look like? 
  2. How do you build personal and professional confidence so that you feel able to take leadership opportunities when they come along?
  3. What strategies have helped you develop as a leader? 
  4. What novel activities have you used as part of your continuing professional development to enhance your leadership skills and knowledge? 

Why is leadership such a hot topic for occupational therapists right now? Karin Orman 23rd of April 2018 https://www.rcot.co.uk/news/why-leadership-such-hot-topic-occupational-therapists-right-now 

Jones, N (2019) The Voyages of Professional Leadership. OTnews 27(11): 22-24.

 Chief Allied Health Professions Officer’s Team (2017) AHPs into Action. Using Allied Health Professions to transform health, care and wellbeing. Available at https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/ahp-action-transform-hlth.pdf (accessed 26 March 2019).
Google Scholar

Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management (2018). Barriers and enablers for clinicians moving into senior leadership roles. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/clinicians-moving-into-senior-leadership-barriers-and-enablers (accessed 7 January 2019).
Google Scholar

Royal College of Occupational Therapists (2017) Career Development Framework: Guiding Principles for Occupational Therapy. London: Royal College of Occupational Therapists. Available at www.rcot.co.uk/careerdevelopmentframework (accessed 27 February 2019)
Google Scholar

3 thoughts on “#OTalk 16th June 2020 – Leadership? What me!”

  1. Good Morning, I was wondering how to suggest a topic?
    Best wishes,
    Sally Scott-Roberts

    Sent from my iPhone


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.