Leadership in Learning Disability Services


A leading not-for-profit social care provider of support to people who have learning disabilities, autism, mental health support needs and their families and carers, which provide support to over 1600 people across London

In 2014 the organisation began a new leadership programme to develop management and executive management teams in the organisation. The Centre for Action Learning were invited to co-design leadership workshops and  and action learning programme to complement and support the implementation of the taught input of an ILM Level 5 Award and Certificate programme in Leadership and Management. Their overall philosophy was that leadership is about self-development and comes from the inside out. The approach was to develop the intrapersonal and interpersonal characteristics of a leader and to develop a culture which recognised and understood that leadership is about continuous self-development, self-management, role-modelling effective leadership behaviours and the development of strong trusting relationships.

Programme structure

The programme was rolled out in phases, with the Senior Executive Team in the first phase, followed by senior managers and then more junior managers. The intention behind this was so that line managers could provide better ongoing line managerial support to programme participants having already gone through the programme themselves.

Each leadership course contained 6 days of taught input followed by action learning sets which would take place one day a month over a period of 6 months.  The focus of the action learning sets would be for participants to expire and take action on the challenges associated with applying the taught input into everyday practice.

Facilitator training

With over 96 managers signed up to the programme and Centre for Action Learning ’s aim was to build internal capacity to facilitate the action learning sets through the

  • Delivery of an ILM Development Award in Action Learning Facilitation to 12 Certitude facilitators.
  • Facilitation of 6 action learning sets for trained facilitators throughout the duration of the leadership programme so that they could practice and embed their learning and explore the challenges they faced in facilitating sets of their own.



We also committed to conducting an evaluation which would assess the quality of training to facilitators and the impact action learning had on managers leadership skills and practice the overall success of the leadership programme.

The programme wasn’t without its challenges as not everyone engaged with the action learning component of the programme as membership was compulsory rather than voluntary.  Also, some managerial responsibilities were prioritised over set attendance – which resulted in set membership levels fluctuating over the duration of the programme when managers felt they had to attend to crisis or emergencies that took place within their teams rather than attend some set meetings.


The final programme evaluation demonstrated that the action learning element had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the success of the leadership programme with the following outcomes reported.

  • Using sets as part of the leadership course enabled a large number of people to experience action learning and establish it as a learning and development tool that was often used in other forums outside of leadership programme.
  • Sets successfully enabled people to try out and develop the leadership skills and behaviours explored in the taught input element of the programme – namely emotional intelligence, giving and receiving of constructive feedback, critically reflective practice, coaching practices.
  • Sets were valued for the opportunity to explore and take action on real-life complex challenges that managers were experiencing.
  • Sets were described as instrumental in improving interpersonal and interdepartmental relationships.