Professor Carolyn Wilkins OBE

Professor Carolyn Wilkins

University of Birmingham
Fellow at Birmingham Leadership Institute

Contact details

University of Birmingham
The Exchange
3 Centenary Square
B1 2DR

Professor Wilkins is a Professorial Fellow at Birmingham Leadership Institute. She has undertaken a number of senior executive roles at local, city region and national levels. She has been a chief executive at both metropolitan and district borough councils, also undertaking the combined role of chief executive of a local authority and chief accountable officer at an NHS clinical commissioning group. 

Her academic interests include systems thinking, leading across boundaries, impactful leadership and effective leadership teams. Her doctorate explored the relationship between trust, distrust and control in organisations. She supports a range of senior executive and graduate development programmes as well as supporting leaders through coaching and mentoring.

Her national experience includes Expert Adviser Health and Care, Number 10, Downing Street and Director of Contain, NHS Test & Trace. In this role she led the team supporting local government and local systems with their Covid response and worked across government to champion a joined-up approach, liaising on a regular basis with local authorities across the country. At the city region combined authority she undertook a range of system leadership roles including for complex dependency and population health.

Carolyn is a Trustee of the Kings Fund and a member of the NHS Assembly. She is Chair of Centre for Local Economic Strategies. Professor Wilkins shared her experience as a public sector leader in the Leadership Exchanged podcast.


  • Doctorate in Business Administration, Sheffield Business School 2013
  • MA in Literature, Open University 2007
  • Masters of Public Administration, Warwick Business School 2004
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies, Manchester Metropolitan University, 1997
  • BSc (Hons) in Psychology, University of Leeds 1989


Professor Wilkins has significant experience working in the public sector. Through her executive, non-executive and academic experience she has a deep knowledge of local government, health and care and the wider public sector landscape.

Her local government experience includes chief executive and returning officer at a district borough council, leading a significant programme of corporate and service delivery improvement. It also includes chief executive and returning officer at a metropolitan borough council. For part of the time in this role Professor Wilkins also undertook the role of the accountable officer at the NHS clinical commissioning group, working on the integration of health and social care, within a wider programme of reform of public services. As the local authority was part of the city region combined authority she undertook a range of responsibilities at this level. These included chairing the population health programme for the health and care partnership, co-chairing the city region cancer board and leading the complex dependency programme 

Professor Wilkins has worked as a senior civil servant at Number 10, Downing Street and during the COVID-19 pandemic worked on secondment from local government as Director of Contain, NHS Test & Trace. In both roles she worked with national organisations including the Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Public Health, and Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.

Her strong commitment to social justice and tackling inequalities together with her experience working on a wide range of systemic challenges informs, and in turn is informed by, academic interests that include systems thinking, leading across boundaries, and the relationship between trust, distrust and control in organisations. Her interests also include the contribution to local economies and thriving communities that can be made by anchor institutions. She is Chair of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES). She is a Trustee of the Kings Fund, a member of the NHS Assembly as well as secretary of her local community association.

In June 2016 she was awarded an OBE for her services to local government and public service reform. 


  • MSc in Leadership in Public Services
  • MSc/ILM 7 Apprenticeship: Systems Thinking and Leadership Practitioner
  • LGA National Graduate Development Programme (ILM 7 in Leadership and Management)


Research interests 

  • Relationship between trust and control in organisations

Other activities

  • Chair of CLES (Centre for Local Economic Strategies)
  • Trustee of The King’s Fund
  • Former local authority chief executive and accountable officer NHS clinical commissioning group