The role of a QI coach

Picture of Suzie Creighton

Published on 26 May 2021 at 10:02

by Suzie Creighton

Role of QI Coach

Working in the Quality Improvement (QI) space, we all know how important QI training is for developing skills at scale across the organisation. However, beyond the more formal taught training sessions, organisations also need to consider the benefits of coaching. Ongoing support from a QI coach, helps to re-enforce and deepen learning and the application of skills.

In this article, we’re going to find out more about what QI coaching entails and what kind of traits and characteristics you may need if you are interested in becoming a QI coach.


What is coaching?

According to the Chartered Management Institute, coaching is a method of: ‘helping people to develop their self-awareness and their skills and knowledge to improve their job performance or personal growth. Coaching can also improve motivation, leading to a reduction in staff turnover. It sends a positive message to employees that the organisation values its staff and creates a sense of achievement for both those acting as coaches and those receiving support from a coach.’

This is easily transferrable to the world of healthcare improvement. And when looking at QI coaching specifically, coaching can help build QI capacity and strengthen learning. It represents great value to those in the improvement space, as QI coaches can provide consistent, practical support which motivates and supports frontline project teams and helps them bring about transformational change.

If you want to become a QI coach, you can choose from coaching programmes available across the world. The Scottish Leading and Coaching for Improvement Programme (SCLIP) provides a three-month QI programme to enable QI coaches to coach and facilitate QI teams and teach them to support achievement of improvement strategies within their organisation.  While the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) has an Improvement Coach Professional Development Programme. It is designed to help the QI coach to develop a ‘relationship based on the open exchange of information, supporting an environment that facilitates innovation and ultimately leads to independence.  Ideally, the coach moves programs from external guidance to internally driven and sustained quality management.’

The tools are available to assist those interested in QI coaching. So let’s find out more about what makes a good QI coach.



Who should be a QI coach?

A QI coach is a vital part of healthcare organisations and should be someone who has a passion for QI. Someone who works closely with frontline staff, and ideally a frontline worker themselves. In the document ‘Building capacity and capability for improvement: embedding quality improvement skills in NHS providers,’ the writers describe quality coaches as being ‘skilled in the human side of change and QI measurement’ and ‘able to use QI tools and methods to help teams achieve their aims.’

A QI coach should ideally have practical experience of having delivered a QI project. Many QI coaches will have already received QI training themselves. This gives them sound experience and a deep knowledge of the subject matter and positive benefits of QI.

A QI coach should have the character and skillset that enables them to provide guidance and support and to engage with QI teams – while developing relationships that are based on trust.

The principal skills and characteristics of a QI coach include:


  1. Having a deep understanding of QI methodology and be able to apply this in a practical way
  2. Being a good communicator and facilitator and be able to support QI teams in their learning
  3. Being organised and be able to plan QI work with teams

QI coaches also need to be skilled in facilitating and organising coaching plans. They also need to have the time and resources to help frontline teams run projects.  As already described you must be familiar with the various processes and techniques of QI – such as aims statements, PDSAs etc.  This is where QI software such as Life QI can help, as you can organise all your improvement work in one place and also benefit from other peoples’ QI experience.

So, there are quite a few skills involved with being a QI coach. Now let’s find out more about what the role involves...



What does a quality improvement coach do?

The Point of Care Quality Improvement (POCQI) Coaching Guide neatly sums up the role of the QI coach, thus: ‘QI coaches help teams to identify and solve problems in conducting and sustaining QI projects. Regular coaching is important for maintaining momentum in improving quality of care’. While the writers of ‘Building capacity and capability for improvement: embedding quality improvement skills in NHS providers,’ say about QI coaches: ‘They coach colleagues to test new ideas and support teams with implementation and spread.’

A QI coach needs to be able to teach people about the underlying ‘science’ of QI, as well as being able to use data for improvement, which can be a complex area.

A key element of a QI coach’s role is to support various team members within a project team to support the improvement process. A QI coach should be able to be called on when required to spread messages of QI across an organisation.  They should be adept at running training courses and must also be able to demonstrate how QI projects can be run, and how they can scale up and be used across an organisation.

The QI team at ELFT provide many resources and tools for QI coaching which you might find useful.

EFLT sets out the role of a QI Coach:


  • Coaching QI teams within directorates, meeting with the team regularly
  • Deep knowledge of improvement methods and tools
  • Support the development of directorate structures and processes for QI


It also sets out the responsibilities of a QI Coach:


  • Help engage people and teams in QI
  • Support project teams to develop ideas and strategy, using QI tools, and advise on how to complete project documentation
  • Support project teams in using QI methodology, including PDSA cycles and data over time
  • Provide monthly update on team progress to sponsor
  • Teach and explain use of QI tools and methods
  • Attend supervision with QI lead locally, and organisation-wide support sessions

QI coaching can prove to be extremely successful, as demonstrated at ELFT and elsewhere. In 2014, ELFT recognised the need to develop Improvement Coaches and set an aim to train 30 coaches during 2015. They recognised the importance of QI coaches and worked to develop a cohort and pipeline of improvement coaches.

Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust work with the IHI and use its Improvement Coach development programme in order to develop coaching capability within their teams.

Coaching for quality improvement enables a collaborative approach between the coach and its team, to enhance performance and meet goals. With the wide range of resources and training available to potential QI coaches, the importance of the role is clear.

As the Point of Care Quality Improvement (POCQI) Coaching Guide concludes: ‘Regular coaching is important for maintaining momentum in improving quality of care.’





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