Clinical excellence has long been the hallmark of our profession and the yardstick against which we measure ourselves and our colleagues. But, as we continue to navigate a rapid pace of change and battle the challenges it’s throwing up – burnout, compassion fatigue, staff retention among them –it’s time to recognise that clinical skills are not the only skills necessary to build a more sustainable, healthy and motivated profession.

In today’s environment, excellence in leadership – the ability to motivate, influence and enable others to make a contribution to the success of their organisation – and in management – which ensures the smooth and proper running of specific organisational functions – are equally as important as clinical excellence.  So, how can we help those moving into leadership or management positions fulfil their new roles effectively?

The Veterinary Management Group (VMG) is the UK’s leading association for those in veterinary leadership and management. It’s working to transform leadership within the profession by providing inspiration, guidance and practical resources – including a suite of evidence-based qualifications – to support veterinary leaders. In the run-up to its annual Congress in April, we asked some VMG leaders and Congress speakers for their perspectives on the mindset, qualities and skills required to become a successful veterinary leader and how they can be nurtured and developed:

Helen Silver-MacMahon

Becoming a veterinary leader is a wonderful opportunity to explore and develop the human skills that are essential for leading successful veterinary teams. By discovering the impact that skills such as communication, teamwork, decision making and leadership have on our ability to deliver excellent veterinary care and understanding the limitations and capabilities we have as humans, we are able to optimise both our wellbeing and performance. Developing strong human skills will help leaders to work with their teams to:

  • Create an environment of trust and psychological safety
  • Optimise their team’s performance
  • Understand how to promote – or change – their practice’s culture.

The good news is that there is a huge range of resources on offer to help current and future leaders.  Attending congresses, such as VMG Congress, where you can learn from others and ask questions of more experienced colleagues, is, of course, a great way to do it.  You can also study for qualifications, such as those run by the VMG.

The key thing is to be curious: there are so many ways to learn and it’s not all about attending courses or other formal learning methods. Listen to podcasts or read books from thought leaders on the subject. Simon Sinek is a favourite of mine.  Dive deeper into areas that you find of particular interest and you’ll learn quickly, find a leadership style that you find sustainable and enjoyable and, which works for your team and earns their support and trust.

You can hear Helen, founder of consultancy Being Human, talking on ‘Dreams to Reality: Harnessing the Power of Empowerment’ Congress on Thursday 25 April and on ‘The Power of Happiness: Finding Joy at Work’ on Friday 26 April at VMG Congress

Gemma Barmby, VMG Director

Gemma Barmby VMG Congress 2024 Female Leaders

We all know how quickly the veterinary world is changing and the next generation of veterinary leaders are certainly ‘growing up’ in the profession in challenging times. This makes it all the more important that we support them and help them to recognise their strengths and style of leadership and to feel ok about not having all the answers all of the time.

Emotional intelligence is a key quality for a leader – by this I mean the ability to understand, manage and express their emotions and to recognise and influence the emotions of others. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, is another important trait because, in my experience, individuals connect more strongly with leaders who are honest, open and really understand and care about them.

In terms of skills development, I recommend watching some TED Talks, listening to podcasts or reading some of the many fantastic books on leadership. Daniel Goleman and Amy Edmondson are two real experts and I’d also suggest reading, listening or watching anything by Brene Brown. Her work around leadership and vulnerability is so enlightening and accessible. Then put it into practice! And, remember, you don’t have to do one ‘big thing’. In most cases, it’s doing the little things well, with consistency and with genuine respect and care for your colleagues, that will make the difference.

You can hear Gemma, a VMG Director and consultant at Vet Dynamics, addressing ‘Getting it done: How to turn ideas into plans, and plans into actions’ on Friday 26 April at VMG Congress

Ruth Mackay, VMG Chair

As leaders, our focus should be on inspiring our colleagues to become leaders too and this means that the purpose of leadership is to help others realise their own potential. Those of us already in leadership roles need to teach, inspire and model leadership in such a way that encourages others to want to become leaders – and as they move into these roles and as the profession continues to change – we must be willing to support them in making faster progress than we ever thought possible.

Leaders need a growth mindset and a willingness to reflect, change and grow in their role. Personal qualities I consider important are:

  • A willingness to lean into vulnerability and to be brave both with ourselves and with our teams. Leadership sometimes means having tough conversations, holding people accountable and embracing the diverse skills that each team member brings
  • Really living the values that we profess to have by demonstrating behaviours consistently that fit with our values and training our teams in what those values mean on a day-to-day basis
  • A willingness to learn from setbacks and failure, owning our mistakes and using them as teaching to constantly progress and change for the better.

Leadership is a privilege and opportunity – but it is also a huge responsibility.  The key is to keep learning.  After all, as Sheryl Sandberg said: ‘The ability to learn is the greatest quality a leader can have.’

Hear from Helen and Gemma, plus many more amazing speakers at this year’s VMG Congress, which takes place on 25-26 April at the Crowne Plaza, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

VMG Congress is an exhilarating 2-day getaway during which you can join the leading minds from the veterinary sector and beyond for a feast of learning, sharing and personal growth. This is your chance to build on what you know—master team leadership, enhance practice performance, prioritise self-care. You’ll leave feeling empowered to reach new heights in your personal and professional life. Learn more about VMG Congress at

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