From higher education to healthcare: Lena Samuels’ OutsideIn story

14 Jul 2020

From higher education to healthcare: Lena Samuels’ OutsideIn story

Now Chair of the South Central Ambulance Service, Lena Samuels' professional background is wide-ranging, starting her career as a lecturer in further and higher education. She shares her thoughts on moving into healthcare board roles.

Lena Samuels

Serving as Chair of the NHS Foundation Trust, South Central Ambulance Service, Lena Samuels maintains a portfolio career as Governor at Southampton Solent University; Chair of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Sustainability and Transformation Partnership and running a company that provides communications and training internationally in leadership, human rights and child protection.

But she started her career in further and higher education as a lecturer and managed a training centre for young people at risk of exclusion. It was after this she went on to build up significant experience in the health sector. As a NED with University Hospital Southampton, she had responsibility for patient safety, international health, and equality and diversity. She undertook GP recruitment and the assessment of post-graduate doctors in rotation while serving as Lay Advisor with Wessex Deanery. And she has sat on the school boards of surgery and emergency medicine.

Making an impact

“The role of the Chair and Non-Executive Directors is highly impactful. As well as the technical capabilities to do the job, candidates must have an eye for detail and be able to provide assurance.”

Lena continues:

“Aligned to this, it is important to have softer coaching skills and well-developed influencing and interpersonal skills. Behaviours and values matter and must be aligned to the culture of the organisation.”

Working together

Lena stresses that Non-Executive Directors must be able to work together. When interviewing for Non-Executive Director roles, she likes to test how candidates describe their leadership and influencing capability. Candidates are probed about how they bring people round to their way of thinking. Candidates are also asked about how they make decisions.

“Taking on a Non-Executive Director role is an opportunity for candidates to give something back to the NHS, but it is much more than this.  Non-Executives find themselves confronted with high-level strategic problem-solving.”

“They must be able to step away from the executive space where they are managing the problem, to the non-executive space where they are holding the executive team to account and bringing different perspectives of practice elsewhere.”


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Valuable lessons

“The sector is very complex and non-executives will be uniquely challenged in their thinking. This is an opportunity to relish because of the learning that it brings non-executive directors.”

Lena also feels that effective non-executive directors need to be politically astute and know how to get the best out of the wider board. 

In terms of time commitment, if a non-executive director is in current employment, it should be possible to persuade an employer to invest in their member of staff to enable them to gain this valuable exposure on the board of an NHS organisation. In turn, this employee will bring back a wealth of useful perspectives and insights which will be helpful to their employer. 

Finally, Lena is a clear champion of board inclusion and diversity and recognises that people look at the board for role models. This, in turn, she says, this encourages others to step forward to take on responsibility.