In Conversation with Samantha Wood, Business Manager at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust
Samantha’s story is part of a series of articles highlighting the careers of female tech leaders. We’ve brought together these stories in an effort to prove that the route to leadership is never a straight line.
Being raised in a military family, Samantha’s childhood was in constant motion. Samantha, who had her heart set on joining the Airforce, started her career as an Aircraft Engineer. After suffering an injury that prevented her from working on the aircraft, Samantha had to re-evaluate what she wanted from her career. That’s when she joined the NHS.
“I never thought about it as a career before but I absolutely loved it.”
Deciding to go to University part time to get her Bachelors in Business Management, Sam moved to Leicester in 2008 where she picked up a role in Patient Engagement. Here, Sam worked her way up and, when she finished her degree, was able to move into a position as Business Manager. Her key areas of focus are mental health in adults and older people, while supporting all aspects of the business management for that Directorate.
“I love the breadth of experience you get. You really get to be involved in every single part of the organisation and it’s different every day.”
It’s like a family you never lose sight of
The bonds Sam forged while working for the Royal Air Force are ones that have stood the test of time.
“It’s like a family that you never lose sight of.”
Samantha traces a lot of her success in her business management career to the lessons she learnt in her early days in the cadets and the start of her career in the Royal Airforce where her resilience was truly put to the test.
" I remember doing my gas-mask training and I remember it was most horrific experience. And whenever I hit a challenge now always look back and think, well, if I could do that I can overcome anything.”
Sam’s role at the Royal Airforce had her housed and when her time came to move on from the Airforce after injury, Sam found herself having to move back to her family – a move that she admits was incredibly tough after spending so much time being independent and would be closely followed by starting a completely new career.
“I had to take that leap. I was moving into a new role, spending time in a big city after living in a sleepy town in Yorkshire. If I hadn't done it, I don't know what I'd be doing now, to be honest.”
Demonstrating resilience and drive across her career in the NHS and RAF, Sam has worked in incredibly high-pressure environments.
Being resilient, in theory, seems sound - but applying it is another story altogether. Elements of doubt begin to creep in as you climb the career ladder. This doubt is commonly known as Imposter Syndrome and it’s something that adversely affects women. For Sam, it’s a daily battle.
“It’s like a ticker-tape in my head. A constant reel of ‘can you do it?’ ‘have you bitten off more than you can chew?’ ‘Have you got the skills?’”
It’s something that 100% of the women I’ve spoken to throughout the course of this series have experienced – myself included. Through this series, it’s also come to be something I now understand to be almost a fact of being ambitious.
“The more I kind of pushed myself out of my comfort zone, the more I realised that there's not much that you're not going to be able to overcome. That it’s ok to fail. Sometimes you just got to take the leap and be prepared to fail because I think you learn quite a bit from the things that don't work so well.”
Returning from Maternity
I’ve had the privilege of speaking to many courageous women on the course of this series. Women who have juggled full-time jobs while raising children and continued to go from strength to strength.
As a Mother myself, I’m filled with pride to listen to these stories but also reminded of my own challenges around returning to work.
For Samantha, the first time she went back to work after maternity leave didn’t pose as many challenges as the second time when she came back to a completely reshuffled team and organisation.
“Not only was I dealing with this sort of new anxiety, but I remember feeling really disconnected and quite isolated and quite lonely. It was probably the hardest sort of six months of my working career.”
Coming close to changing her job and reducing her hours, Sam realised she was just running from her problems and not standing up for herself. With support from her Husband, Sam found allies at the new look work she returned to and built her confidence back up over a period of time.
“Peer support is absolutely crucial in those situations, people that you can talk quite honestly to can make a massive difference.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Let Others be the Experts
Driving Business Development for her Directorate, Sam is going from strength to strength. For those looking to follow in her footsteps, Sam has this advice:
“Don’t be afraid to let the people in your team be the experts. Don't think you have to be a tech expert to lead in tech. You're bringing your leadership skills, not necessarily your technical expertise. But absolutely make sure you’re getting excited by technical developments out there.”