In Conversation With: Jill Lanham, Director of Digital at South Central Ambulance Service
We spoke to Jill Lanham, Director of Digital at South Central Ambulance Service to discuss the importance of authenticity, leading technical teams and the advocates in her career.
Jill’s story is part of a series of articles highlighting the careers of female tech leaders within the NHS. We’ve brought together these stories in an effort to prove that the route to leadership is never a straight line.
As the Director of Digital at South Central Ambulance Service, Jill leads the digital transformational efforts of the ambulance service across the counties of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire. An IT professional by education and profession, Jill started her career in local government years before Microsoft Windows was mainstream. Jill’s first foray into the NHS involved her establishing and running an NHS IT Shared Service before moving on to the community, mental health and acute care.
After taking a brief hiatus from the NHS to work in the charity sector, Jill is back working in the NHS - something she believes is one of her main drivers.
“It's really important for me to work somewhere where I can see where I'm really adding value.”
You Need to Understand Technical Concepts
An IT graduate, Jill has held positions as first-line support, development and analysis before moving into IT management. With years worth of contribution and experience on the technical side, initially, Jill found it a challenge to make that transition over to the management side.
“As you get more senior, you start to lose your technical skills because other responsibilities take over, initially that is quite an uncomfortable place. That's a pivotal point where you start to lead and coach people.”
Often times, people are thrust into positions that see them directing technical teams without technical knowledge. Although it’s definitely possible to lead technical teams without technical knowledge, it helps to have a core understanding of the concepts and challenges they’re dealing with on a day to day basis - as Jill explains:
"I think you need to have enough technical knowledge to understand the concepts that people are talking about so you can communicate with them effectively and translate that work at a board level.”
“You’ve got to be Authentic. You’ve got to be Honest.”
Leaders at different levels of the organization face different challenges. But whether you’re an individual contributor, a first-time manager, a senior executive, or somewhere in between, there are certain skills that will always be drawn on. These ‘soft skills’ like communication, honesty and integrity, often hard to define and categorise, are the ones that Jill holds close to her management methodology.
“The most important thing is to be authentic. It's quite easy when you first go into management to model yourself on somebody else and try to be something you're not, but it quite quickly becomes apparent. So, at the very least, stay true to yourself.”
Staying true to yourself and focusing on your integrity will help you win the hearts and minds of your team, but it won’t help you enable them to deliver their best possible work. Roadblocks at work can quite literally stop you in your tracks, but responding to challenge is a significant component of the manager’s day-to-day.
“Your role as a leader is to take away some of the roadblocks for your team and give them cover from above and to be able to unblock some of the issues that they're going to be facing. Building strong relationships with stakeholders will help protect your team.”
Advocates and Role Models
There have probably been countless moments in your life where you’ve leaned on someone you trust for advice or assistance. Whether the person you turn to is a professor, friend, family member, athletic coach or other, the importance of mentors is undeniable. These people can help to guide, direct, and shape your present situation and future opportunities for the better.
In work - and life - these people come to us as role models. People who can push us and motivate us. For Jill, who was pushed by a great line manager when she first joined local government, believes wholeheartedly in the power of mentorship.
“It's really widened my thinking outside the digital arena, which I think is incredibly important.”
Focus on Blending Your Skills
For those looking for a technical leadership role within the NHS, Jill has this advice:
“Go for it. But remember, you need to blend your technical knowledge and your leadership. You have to be comfortable with both so start looking for projects that test you as soon as you can.”