Our People

Birmingham Leadership Institute are pleased to work with inspirational people, both within our team and beyond.

Christopher Pietroni

Christopher Pietroni

Director of the Birmingham Leadership Institute

Christopher is Professor of Leadership Practice at the University of Birmingham, where he is Director of the Birmingham Leadership Institute.

His work focuses on leadership and change in complex systems with a particular interest in applying and adapting insights from narrative, framing, movement building and adaptive leadership. Working in the UK, US and Europe he leads a number of senior executive and graduate development programmes and post-graduate teaching/Exec Ed as well as consulting widely.

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Catherine Mangan


Director of Education, College of Social Sciences

Catherine is the  Director of Education for the College of Social Sciences and a Professor of Public Management and Leadership in the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham. She has a background as a policy maker and practitioner in public service and as such as a particular research interest in developing research which can deliver change within the public sector.

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Rachel Lilley

Rachel Lilley

Senior Fellow

Dr Rachel Lilley has developed high impact and innovative research in decision-making, mindfulness and behavioural insights to support adaptive leadership, well-being and behaviour change policy initiatives aimed at improving sustainability and well-being. She is currently Programme Director of the Systems Practitioner and Leadership MSc and Apprenticeship programme due to be launched in the University of Birmingham in the Autumn,  She has over 30 years’ practitioner experience in community engagement, climate change, inequality and wellbeing. Her work has supported leadership development at all levels, enabling more collaborative and co-productive public sector working. She is an expert behaviour change consultant, using a systemic approach to support public and private sector partners to design and deliver policy initiatives.

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Carolyn Wilkins OBE

Carolyn Wilkins

Carolyn is currently a Professor at Birmingham Leadership Institute, University of Birmingham. She is an experienced public sector leader and coach. She has held senior executive roles at local, city region and national levels including the combined role of chief executive of a local authority and chief accountable officer at an NHS clinical commissioning group where she oversaw a significant programme of health and care integration within wider reform of public services. 

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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 and organisations including the LGA, ADPH, and SOLACE. In Greater Manchester she undertook a range of system leadership roles including for Complex Dependency; Population Health, and Lead Chief Executive for Safe and Strong Communities.

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

Carolyn is a Trustee of the Kings Fund and a member of the NHS Assembly. In June 2016 she was awarded an OBE for her services to local government and public service reform. 

Professor Gerald Midgley

Visiting Professor, Systems Thinking and Leadership Practitioner

Gerald Midgley’s research is on the theory and practice of systems thinking and systemic leadership. For almost forty years, he has moved between academia, government research and consultancy. 

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Iola Jones

Iola Jones

Operations Manager, Birmingham Leadership Institute

Iola joined the University in November 2014 as a recent graduate, working for the College of Life and Environmental Sciences before moving to the College of Social Sciences in October 2017. Iola has held a range of roles, from Programme Administrator to Head of Operations, enjoying leading a range of continuous improvement initiatives and functional teams throughout.

Iola joined the BLI in May 2021 as Head of Operations. Iola has worked as part of the College’s Operational Management Team for four years, building strong relationships with key internal stakeholders and enacting positive change for the College. Iola is in her final year of study for an Executive MBA with Level 7 Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship, a programme that has helped her enhance skills that she now brings to her role in the BLI. Iola is responsible for leading the BLI’s Professional Services Team, and, alongside Professor Christopher Pietroni, is responsible for the successful delivery of the BLI’s strategy.

Rhiannon Sharp

Rhiannon Sharp

Programme and Project Manager, Birmingham Leadership Institute

Rhiannon joined the University in March 2018 and has since broadened her experience at University, College and School level. In October 2020, Rhiannon joined the Birmingham Leadership Institute as Programme and Project Manager.

Rhiannon applies her wide ranging experience in project based activity to manage designated projects across the institute, including liaison with external programme delivery staff to ensure the policies and processes delivered to clients meet the regulatory requirement of the University of Birmingham. Rhiannon is responsible for leading the administrative staff within the Institute to deliver an effective and efficient administrative service for a portfolio of programmes and CPD.

Professional Services

Helen Ali 

PA to DirectorHelen Ali

Helen has over twenty years’ experience supporting high profile clinicians and academics.She joined the University in 2007 as Departmental Administrator and PA to the Head of Surgery. Alongside her normal PA duties, Helen has also been responsible for providing comprehensive teaching support, including building content on Canvas, preparing presentations for national and international conferences and organising internal conferences, facilities management and working closely with NHS colleagues across the country. Helen joined the Birmingham Leadership Institute in October 2022 as PA to the Director.  She actively supports the Programme and Project Manager and the Director with the organisation of programme delivery.  She is responsible for the administration of the BLI Steering Group as well as procurement and finances.  

Karen EllistonKaren Elliston

Senior Education Administrator 

Karen joined the University in July 2018, having previously worked at Coventry University and the University of Wolverhampton. Previous roles at UoB were Student Experience Administrator and Student Experience Officer in School of Social Policy. In October 2022, Karen joined the School of Government as Senior Education Administrator, supporting the L7/MSc Systems Thinking and Leadership Practitioner programme, delivered by the Birmingham Leadership Institute (BLI).  

Shingai Dzumbira

Programme and Project OfficerShingai Dzumbira

Shingai joined the University of Birmingham in December 2022 as a Programme and Project Officer. She has experience relating to project management, strategy implementation, and excellent communication skills across complex organisations and boundaries. Shingai works closely with clients, external partners, BLI associates and honorary fellows to deliver various projects and programmes within the BLI portfolio. She previously worked in the University of Warwick’s Legal and Compliances Services as a paralegal, where she assisted the commercial contracts team with negotiations. Prior to that, she served as the Postgraduate Officer then President of Warwick Students’ Union and Chair of the board of trustees.