Sarah Montgomery, Learning & Development manager, NW Ambulance Service


sarah montgomeryThe North West Ambulance Service is the second largest urban ambulance service in the UK and came into being on 1 July 2006 when Cumbria, Lancashire, Mersey Regional and Greater Manchester ambulance services merged. The organisation provides emergency care over an area of more than 5,400 square miles and became a group member of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) in 2007. It was the first ambulance service in the UK to gain status as a CMI approved training centre, as a result of the learning and development programmes on offer to its staff.

The challenge:

In 2007 the service’s learning and development team identified a number of individuals who had been promoted to managerial roles but did not have any formal management qualifications. The only form of management training on offer was tailored for senior management staff and individuals at lower levels lacked opportunities to develop their skills.


The North West Ambulance Service had two goals. The first was to provide a qualification programme that would suit managers from a broad range of departments within the organisation, including emergency patient transport, the 999 call centre, finance, HR and IT.

The second was to establish a long-term leadership, talent and management development strategy for the organisation as a whole that would address the developmental needs of managers in the future.


The North West Ambulance Service initially piloted the CMI’s Level 3 Certificate in Management and the Diploma in Management, and asked senior line managers to nominate individuals from their teams to take part. Sarah Montgomery, the North West Ambulance Service’s learning and development manager says: “The reason we chose to deliver a nationally recognised CMI qualification in-house was because it would provide managers with an opportunity to develop skills and knowledge that could be recognised across all sectors whilst ensuring the content was relevant to challenges and issues faced in the ambulance service.”

Nickie Boyle, Head of Learning and Organisational Development and Sarah developed and rolled out the programme with the support of the CMI. Sarah says: “It was important for us to run an initial pilot so we could establish which levels of training would be most appropriate for our staff. As many individuals did not have any formal management qualifications to begin with, working closely with line managers was key to finding out what was suitable. This enabled us to identify the need for team leadership development and we introduced the Level 2 course in Team Leading as a result.” 


Sarah says: “The courses have had a tangible impact on the performance of individuals and on the organisation as a whole. Throughout the year-long pilot, we continually evaluated candidates’ progress and monitored their feelings about what they were gaining from the courses on offer. We also talked to line managers so we could gain a perspective on what type of impact the programme was having on workplace performance. The feedback was very positive on all sides. The courses were popular. Feedback demonstrated that overall skills and competencies were improving. Senior staff reported that those who completed the courses seemed more confident as a result.

Sarah continues: “As part of the diploma course, candidates are required to undertake mini-projects. It is down to the individual to choose a topic that is specific to the organisation they work in, make reference to real examples encountered within their workplace and identify areas for improvement. One manager chose to focus on improving communications in his area of work. This was then brought to the attention of our Assistant Chief Executive, who encouraged other managers to implement some of the solutions suggested.”

The courses are now a permanent feature of the learning and development programme and to date, 17 managers from across the service have completed one of the two courses on offer. A second cohort began in June 2009 with 20 people enrolled onto the Level 3 Diploma in Management and another 14 individuals enrolled on the Level 2 Diploma in Team Leading.

The North West Ambulance Service has recently established another goal to ensure that CMI management training programmes remain integral to the development of their management staff.

Sarah says: “Our aim is to ensure that anyone joining the service and is new to a management role takes one of the courses on offer, as part of their induction training. In this way we will continue to provide exciting and forward looking professional opportunities for our staff and our development programmes will continue to attract prospective employees.”