Appointment of the Chief Executive & General Secretary


The Royal College of Nursing is the world’s largest nursing union and professional body. We represent more than 435,000 nurses, midwives, student nurses, health care assistants, as well as the new nurse associates. We are unique being both a professional body, leading the way on nursing standards, education and practice, and a trade union.  


We are looking for a new Chief Executive & General Secretary to bring a fresh approach and a new drive to the challenges we face as a profession. This is a job like no other and we are looking for someone with energy, passion and true leadership ability.  The incoming Chief Executive & General Secretary will help to continue to develop the College and range of services to its members by supporting the RCN Council to deliver the strategic objectives they set. Working collaboratively with both the President and Chair of Council in representing nursing at its highest levels on behalf of the membership both in the UK and internationally. 


We are seeking an exceptional and inspirational individual to take on this highly influential role with the personal credibility, capability and awareness to ensure the voice of our members is always at the heart of what we do. They will also bring a track record of success in leading and embedding cultural and operational change.    


Our incoming Chief Executive & General Secretary will be engaging, with a credible clinical nursing background, as well as business and commercial acumen. They will have a high level of interpersonal and influencing skills, as well as excellent media skills, emotional intelligence and resilience.  They will also require an acute, well developed political understanding, and the ability to develop strong networks across the whole healthcare sector both in the UK and internationally in order to take forward our vital agenda.


Our members work in a range of health care specialties and settings in the NHS and independent sectors. We also have members based overseas, and members who are retired. Around 35,000 nursing students are members.

We are governed by an elected Council of 17 members, which delegates the running and management of the organisation to our Chief Executive & General Secretary. Our President is a member of RCN Council.

We are a Royal Charter body registered with the Privy Council and, because trade unionism is not our sole activity, we are on a special register of trade unions which means our rules differ slightly to other trade unions.

We represent
We represent the professional interests of nursing staff working in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

We are on the NHS Staff Council, which negotiates pay, terms and conditions for NHS staff. We can also bargain for pay, terms and conditions with independent sector organisations. We are represented in social partnership arrangements in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Our stewards, safety reps and learning reps represent members across the UK and are supported and supervised by employment relations officers.

We support
We offer our members free, confidential advice and support on employment matters, career development, immigration, welfare and more.

We support and protect the diversity of the nursing profession by actively promoting inclusion. Our Diversity Champions programme is designed to give members the skills to make sure their organisations are inclusive. We provide accredited reps with the tools to challenge discrimination in the workplace.

We influence
We lobby governments and other bodies across the UK to develop, influence and implement policy that improves the quality of patient care.

Through our campaigns, we encourage health care officials and elected representatives to recognise the importance of nurses, health care assistants and nursing students in improving outcomes for patients.

We provide expert advice to parliamentarians on developing healthcare policies through legislation, select committees, all-party parliamentary groups and parliamentary briefings, and attend all of the major UK party conferences. We have no ties to any political party and we take pride in our political independence.

We develop
We promote and engage in nursing research, recognising that high-quality nursing research has the power to transform patient care.

We have one of the largest specialist nursing libraries in Europe with access to over 64,000 books, 1,100 ejournals, 1,500 e-books and key nursing databases.

We maintain
We strive to be a sustainable, member-led organisation with the capacity to deliver our mission effectively, efficiently and in accordance with our values and core objectives.

For more information on our royal charter, standing orders, regulations, policies and processes that ensure effective governance within our organisation, please click here. 

The role

Chief Executive & General Secretary

Job Title: Chief Executive & General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing
Responsible to: The Chair of Council on behalf of Council

The role

  • Provide strategic leadership and vision to the RCN and its staff as a Royal College, trade union and membership organisation, and to ensure the successful delivery of its objectives and deliver the strategic plan.
  • Be an inspirational lead voice for the College, leading the nursing profession and promoting it to the wide range of external stakeholders in the UK and internationally, by influencing governments, political parties and other key decision makers on health and socialcare policy across the UK that are in the interests of the patients, the nursing profession and the public.
  • Ensure the RCN works in the interests of its members, providing an exemplary service to the membership to ensure their needs across the organisation are treated as paramount with agile services to meet their needs.
  • Secure the financial viability and ongoing work of the organisation to ensure long-term sustainability and growth.
  • Report to and advise the Chair of Council, keeping the members at the centre of the organisation’s work.

Purpose of the role

To provide strong inspirational executive leadership, operational management and direction to the Royal College of Nursing by:

  • Working with the Council to achieve the organisation’s strategic objectives;
  • Recognising the needs of the membership across the organisation are paramount; and
  • Grow a sustainable future of the RCN.



  • Provide strategic leadership and vision to the RCN and its staff in its role as a Royal College, trade union and membership organisation, to ensure the successful delivery of its objectives.
  • Be an inspirational lead to raise RCN’s profile as the voice of the nursing profession and the reputation of the College with key stakeholders.
  • Promote our work as a Royal College, ensuring a high profile for our education, practice and research agendas to protect and improve the quality and standards of nursing, patient care and patient experience.
  • Influence health policy in the interests of the patients, the public and our members.
  • Build and maintain relationships with peer organisations.
  • Be an ambassador and advocate for the organisation and serve as the primary spokesperson of the College.
  • Lead initiatives to ensure that the RCN fulfills its objectives of being the voice of nursing.
  • Work with and act on behalf of the Council to engage with, listen to and represent the nursing profession at all levels across the UK and Internationally.
  • Promote and heighten public and patient perception of nursing through the media.
  • As General Secretary, lead the RCN’s employment and labour relations work to represent the interests of all members of the nursing profession across all healthcare communities.
  • Through personal example, value and celebrate the rich diversity of the nursing workforce and ensure that this it is reflected in all the RCN’s activity.

Organisational Leadership

  • Lead an effective performing Management Team to develop effectual cross-directorate working and deliver agreed outcomes.
  • Lead the implementation of operational and digital transformation plans for the RCN Group to ensure the College has the ability to provide agile services to members and stakeholders that are fit for purpose, meeting different and changing needs.
  • Demonstrate and promote a culture that reflects the values of the College and uphold them at every level.
  • Inspire, empower and develop the College’s workforce to secure a real sense of ownership of its aims and objectives. With continuous improvement opportunities that deliver cross organisational working, decision making and responsibility to the point of service delivery.
  • Maintain organisational focus on delivering the business plan against performance goals within the available budget.

Quality and Service Delivery

  • Ensure the delivery of high quality, cost-effective, best value services to members.
  • Advise and work with Council on the development of deliverable strategies that will meet the needs of members and ensure their successful implementation.
  • Optimise the organisation’s capability to deliver quality services in a constantly changing environment whilst working with available resources and the necessary financial and legal boundaries.
  • Ensure that all aspects of the RCN’s organisation, systems and processes support its purpose and strive to continuously improve the organisations efficiency and effectiveness.

Legal and Statutory

  • Deliver all legal and statutory responsibilities as a Chartered Body.
  • Act as the legally accountable officer and General Secretary of the RCN as a special register trade union.

Financial Management

  • Ensure the organisation meets all legal and statutory responsibilities for financial management.
  • Ensure the financial assets of the College are effectively and appropriately managed.
  • Lead an income diversification strategy that will broaden RCN’s commercial offer, generating new revenue streams to build a sustainable future and delivered enhanced member support and services.

Support for the President, Chair of Council and Council

  • Build effective working relationships and advise and support the President and Chair of Council in the performance of their roles.
  • Advise and support the Council in its strategic and policy-making responsibilities and the delivery of its powers and duties.
  • Advise on and deliver the effective operation of the RCN’s democratic, constitutional and governance structures and arrangements.
  • Act as Secretary to RCN General Meetings and Congress.


The person specification outlines the essential experience, knowledge and skills required for this role.  Evidence for competencies, knowledge and skills will be looked for throughout the selection process.


Knowledge, Training and Qualifications

  • A registered nurse educated to a minimum of masters level;
  • Substantial and broad knowledge and experience within the nursing profession of practice, management and education at local, national, UK and International levels; and
  • In-depth knowledge of current legislation and changes within nursing and the health service in the UK.

Essential Experience

  • Executive Board or demonstrable equivalent experience;
  • Evidence of successful strategic planning and leading and influencing people through change;
  • Demonstrable evidence of strong financial management;
  • Experience of high-level successful negotiations with demonstrable outcomes;
  • Experience of influencing policy and parliamentary agendas across the UK, the EU and internationally;
  • Experience of developing and working successfully with a broad range of stakeholder groups at local, national, UK and international levels in potentially challenging political environments;
  • Understanding of the evolving healthcare environment, the current challenges facing nurses and nursing, and the impact on patients; and
  • Understanding of the culture and climate of membership bodies and trade unions.


  • Demonstrable evidence of strong leadership, management and listening skills;
  • Evidence of strong political acumen with the ability to lead, motivate and influence people at all levels;
  • Demonstrates strong attention to detail and an ability to distil information and data to aid decision making and manage risk;
  • Lead and contribute to the successes of the team, with a collaborative style that builds a strong, capable team to deliver the objectives of the College;
  • Strategic, creative, innovative thinker who encourages others to adapt and encourages new ideas and embraces change;
  • Ability to build consensus through personal credibility and strong political acumen but open to challenge and respects others views;
  • Proven record of being a strong communicator with public speaking skills that can represent the nursing profession with credibility and deliver complex messages to a variety of audiences; and
  • Commercial acumen; applying commercial and business acumen, exploiting new opportunities to diversify income streams.

Personal Qualities

  • Commitment to the RCN vision and its Royal College and trade union status;
  • Has members’ interests at the heart of everything they do;
  • Has personal insight and is able to identify own development needs and strives to achieve these;
  • Dynamic, persuasive, confident, diplomatic, passionate, flexible and self-aware;
  • Demonstrates integrity, resilience, energy and creativity;
  • Demonstrable evidence of a collaborative style of working;
  • Willingness to travel extensively throughout the UK and internationally; and
  • Must be able to meet the Nolan Principles of a fit and proper person.


Terms of appointment

When you join the RCN, you are enrolled into our group personal pension scheme and while you contribute 3% of your salary, the RCN makes additional contributions of 8%.  Twice a year, you will have the option to increase your contributions to 5% or 7%. The scheme has a range of investment options for you to choose from, including ethical investment funds.

In addition to 32 days’ annual leave, we also offer special leave for a variety of requirements as standard.

How to apply

Anderson Quigley is acting as an advisor to the Royal College of Nursing. An executive search process is being carried out by Anderson Quigley in addition to the public advertisement.

Should you wish to discuss the role in strict confidence, please contact our advising consultant at Anderson Quigley: Hélène Usherwood on +44 (0)7719 322 669.