Leadership and management for all doctors

About our Leadership and management guidance

Being a good doctor means more than simply being a good clinician. In their day-to-day role doctors can provide leadership to their colleagues and vision for the organisations in which they work and for the profession as a whole. However, unless doctors are willing to contribute to improving the quality of services and to speak up when things are wrong, patient care is likely to suffer.

This guidance, which forms part of the professional standards, sets out the wider management and leadership responsibilities of doctors in the workplace, including:

  • responsibilities relating to employment issues
  • teaching and training
  • planning, using and managing resources
  • raising and acting on concerns
  • helping to develop and improve services.

The principles in this guidance apply to all doctors, whether they work directly with patients or have a formal management role.1 

How these principles will apply in practical terms to a particular doctor depends on their role and responsibility. For example, how a junior or locum doctor will show leadership or take responsibility for managing resources will be different from a doctor working in a more senior role.

You continue to have responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of patients when you perform non-clinical duties, including when you work as a manager. You are still accountable to the General Medical Council (GMC) for your decisions and actions, even if someone without medical training could perform your role.

This guidance applies across the UK and should be interpreted in the context of the relevant national and local arrangements for the delivery of health services. It sets out:

  • the duties and principles that apply to all doctors
  • the extra responsibilities that may only apply to some doctors (for example, doctors with management or leadership responsibilities at a personal, team, organisation or policy level). This may include doctors working in formal management roles, such as clinical or medical directors, or doctors who are responsible for supervising and managing staff, resources and services.

Although these principles are relevant to all doctors, whatever roles they have, the judgment in Remedy UK Ltd, R (on the application of Remedy UK Ltd) v General Medical Council [2010] EWHC 1245 (Admin) found that there are some roles that are so far removed from practising medicine that the GMC’s fitness to practise procedures do not apply to them. However, doctors are still accountable to the GMC when they are performing a wide range of clinical management roles (for example, as a clinical or medical director) or other non-clinical roles (for example, as a medical educator or researcher), even if medical knowledge or expertise is not needed for the roles (for example, as a chief executive of a hospital).

How this guidance applies to you

In this guidance, the terms ‘you must’ and ‘you should’ are used in the following ways.

  • ‘You must’ is used for a legal or ethical duty you’re expected to meet (or be able to justify why you didn’t). 
  • 'You should’ is used for duties or principles that either:
    • may not apply to you or to the situation you’re currently in, or
    • you may not be able to comply with because of factors outside your control

The professional standards describe good practice, and not every departure from them will be considered serious. You must use your professional judgement to apply the standards to your day-to-day practice. If you do this, act in good faith and in the interests of patients, you will be able to explain and justify your decisions and actions. We say more about professional judgement, and how the professional standards relate to our fitness to practise processes, appraisal and revalidation , at the beginning of Good medical practice.