Stella Ward

Executive Director, Allied Health - CDHB & WCDHB
BA Education, Health & Human Development / Speech and Language Therapy, 1988

Stella Ward

Leading The Future of Health.

In her role as Executive Director of Allied Health, Stella Ward is motivated by a passion for public service and a willingness to lead change. One of her many responsibilities is the development of Christchurch’s new Health Precinct, which she views as an essential part of the regeneration of the city. “The Health Precinct is an opportunity to bring students, education providers and professionals together, in a place where they can connect and change the way we deliver healthcare in the future.”

What you do in your professional role?

I’m the Executive Director of Allied Health for the Canterbury and West Coast District Health Boards. I’m responsible for clinical governance and the management of the allied health, scientific and technical professions. I also lead the innovation and ICT portfolios.

You chose to go into health because…

It's addictive! There are so many different areas to keep you engaged. There’s the hospital staff and primary caregivers, the policy side, technology, sustainability and the environment. I enjoy being part of a community-oriented organisation that has strong values and a sense of public service. It’s a career that inspires me every day.

What are some of the opportunities you’ve had in your role?

I’ve had the chance to be on the world stage as part of global advisory boards and think tanks. Locally, I'm involved in the development of the Health Precinct, which is an important part of the regeneration of Christchurch. It’s an opportunity to bring students, education providers and research professionals together, in a place where they can connect and change the way we deliver healthcare in the future.

What are you aspirations for the future of healthcare?

There are a lot of factors in people's health that aren't at the discretion of the healthcare system. So we need to think differently about how we deliver services that keep people happy and healthy, in their own homes and connected to their community. Mental and physical health require connection, employment and a sense of belonging. We need to swing the pendulum back from individualism to something that's more community orientated.

You’re passionate about tech and innovation too?

I am. One of the things I’ve done in my leadership portfolio is to establish the innovation hub, Via Innovations. That's where we commercialise the intellectual property coming out of the DHB and bring in industry partners as well. Technology and innovation are going to have a huge influence in the health field and we need to attract great minds to be part of this amazingly exciting and complex future.

What was the path to where you are today?

I got my Bachelor of Speech and Language Therapy and my Bachelor of Arts at UC. After graduating I worked at a hospital and then went on my OE where I had a range of international roles. Eventually I came back and set up my own private practice. I got to the top of my profession and thought, ‘what next?’ So I decided to close my business and work in leadership in Health.

What inspired you to aim for leadership?

I think it's partly due to how I was brought up. I grew up in the country, and it's not uncommon for rural woman to lead. My family has the attitude of, ‘if you're bothered about something be part of the change’. So if I saw an opportunity to improve or change things, I had that motivation and willingness to step up.

Would you say that leadership spans a range of personalities and styles?

Absolutely. The complexities of healthcare require what’s called ‘adaptive leadership’. You need to have different approaches for different situations. In an emergency, it’s command and control. In a community, it's empower and nurture. Sometimes I take centre stage and sometimes I lead through others, gathering the team to move together. The one true thing is to know who you are.

Is there anything you learned at UC that you still draw on today?

I studied at a time where women were being strongly encouraged to do degrees and take on careers. That was powerful. The opportunity to combine arts and science papers meant the networking was valuable too, and the people I met at UC have remained lifelong friends. They also reinforced my curious nature and love of diverse debates. I also learned about the importance of work and play, friendships and study. It was a nice mixture

What's the secret to achieving as much as you have?

Two things. To know yourself, and to grab hold of opportunities when they present themselves. When I talk to people about leadership, the common feeling is that you're never ready. But that doesn't mean you don’t go for it. In doing so, you'll learn and become ready for the next challenge. Just give it a go. You either sink or swim, and generally you swim.

What’s next for you?

I'd like to continue to expand my international network and exposure. I've got so much more still to learn and do in leadership. I might branch out in health or go into another sector. Given my career history, something will emerge and I will take a step in that direction!