One woman’s road to leadership

Eilísh Hardiman, Group Chief Executive of the Children’s Hospital Group, would not be where she is today without the help and support of her husband, writes Maureen Browne.

Eilish Hardiman
Eilish Hardiman

“The fact that my husband works from home gives me great freedom to focus on my remit and he and my 12 year old twins keep me grounded – there’s nothing like a bit of Irish homework in the evening to keep your feet on the ground,” she said when she spoke on “My Personal Career Journey” at the HSE International Women’s Day Conference in the RCPI.

Before taking up the post of Group Chief Executive of the Children’s Hospital Group three years ago, Eilísh Hardiman had been CEO of Tallaght Hospital in Dublin for three years. Before that, she worked for two years on the project to build the new children’s hospital on the Mater site. Prior to that, she was Deputy CEO of St James’s Hospital, Dublin and before that Director of Nursing at St. James’s after working her way up through the nursing structure there.

“The only job I actually applied for was my current one, I was tapped on the shoulder for the others,” she said. “That has taught me to tap people on the shoulder also for posts.”

She has been 27 years in the health service, of which she has spent 12 in general management.

While education such as the nursing degree, the OHM leadership course and the MBA, which were all great, is important, in the end you cannot beat experience.

A native of Killimor in East Galway, she is the eldest of six children. “My mother was a nurse (she had to leave her job when she got married) and what I learnt from her, my father and my home environment was the concept of hard work.   Whatever job I do, I work hard. Hard work is one of the consistent factors of our family.”

Following qualifying as a nurse, she did a nursing degree in Northern Ireland, and worked in the UK and the US during holidays. “I supported myself through university and had an absolute ball.

“After graduating I came to Dublin to work. I thought the best way to discover the culture of a hospital was to work there at night. I did night duty in every hospital in Dublin on an agency basis over a two month period. I then settled on St. James’s Hospital because I felt it was an organisation that would allow me to develop and grow and it did.

“Up to then, nurses with degrees mainly went into teaching and it gave me a great edge to have a degree and be working in the clinical area.

“In my first year as a staff nurse in St. James’s I led a campaign that got rid of nurses’ hats, then three years later got rid of dresses as the only uniform for female nurses. Then the nurses’ strike occurred and, as a Ward Sister at the time, those nine days of the nurses’ strike were the most anxious of my career to date. However, it gave me exposure to how the whole hospital operated, to the CEO and the Chair of the Hospital Board and it showed me that I could rise to a challenge.”

She did a leadership course for the under 30s in the Office for Health Management. “That was great; it hot housed younger managers with leadership potential. The then CEO of St. James’s kept expanding my role as Director of Nursing – for example, I led on commissioning the concourse, the car park and the finance system at St. James’s Hospital.

The challenge will be to drive better and coordinated care and for me the success will be how good our people will be at working together to deliver networked services – so our people and their integration are my top focus, followed by ICT implementation for a digital hospital

“Then following five years as Director of Nursing, I thought I should get some general management experience under my belt.

“I then applied for, and got the Sunday Times sponsorship for the Smurfit School of Business Executive MBA which was a great experience. I studied with people who were a decade younger than me, from many different careers and it showed me the value of diversity and networking.

“While education such as the nursing degree, the OHM leadership course and the MBA, which were all great, is important, in the end you cannot beat experience.

“For me it was about taking on challenges and not being afraid to ask for help. When I took on the post of CEO at Tallaght, it was a really tough time for the organisation and I needed help to turn it around. I learned a lot of people wanted change to happen in the hospital which was fantastic and for me it was about reaching out beyond the staff, to the Board, the HSE and to the Department of Health in order to really make things happen. As an executive leader and CEO you need to have alliances, look at who else in the system can support you and reach out and ask them to work with you.

“I never actually had a big five year career plan. I’m primarily motivated by being in a post that can create an environment for doctors, nurses and health and social care professionals to give better care to patients. I was three years in Tallaght and I loved it and it was just turning around when my current job came up

“My current post is more that getting the Children’s Hospital built and operational. We are delivering on a children healthcare system for 25 per cent of the population. There is no doubt the real hard work is about the people issues, not building.

“My final point would be that being a leader is all about people and followers. I spend an amount of my time dealing with the public, public representatives and the media, and the new children’s hospital is a large building (the hospital has 473 beds and is the size of Dundrum shopping centre, while the project involves five new buildings across four locations) and it allows us as service providers to re configure paediatric services to provide local services that are convenient and appropriate and to centralise in-patient services. However, success won’t be just a new building – although it will be beautiful – success will be a networked system of child healthcare.

“The challenge will be to drive better and coordinated care and for me the success will be how good our people will be at working together to deliver networked services – so our people and their integration are my top focus, followed by ICT implementation for a digital hospital. Implementing these two elements will support outreach services and help colleagues in the regional paediatric units in Cork, Limerick and Galway in delivering paediatric services locally.”