My aim is to help people achieve their true potential, to connect to their values and to have an impact for the greater good.
— Una O’Brien


+44 (0)207 907 2478

+44 (0)7813 905405



Una O’Brien

Coaching offers a unique and special space and relationship: free from the noise of everyday expectations, it gives you time to focus and to re-fresh your clarity of purpose. It’s also a place to test things out, take some risks and work out where and how you want to act for greatest effect. 


Una has wide and deep experience of Whitehall and the NHS. As a recent Permanent Secretary, now with a Henley Business School Practitioner Certificate in Coaching, her coaching practice is rooted in the realities facing leaders in the Civil Service and wider public sector. 

For several decades, Una worked closely with Ministers and senior leaders, helping to shape, lead and deliver large-scale change. She is therefore highly attuned to what it can feel like to be responsible for delivering change and leading people in a complex and politically challenging context. 

Una’s coaching practice is best described as strengths based, enabling her clients to be more aware of their capabilities and to use them to best effect.

Her client base embraces aspiring and senior leaders in the public and not-for-profit sectors and people at all levels within the Senior Civil Service. Clients include people who are new in a role; leaders who want to improve their performance as well as those who are thinking about career transitions. Una also coaches individuals who wish to be or are part of a high potential leadership programme.

Career History

Una’s early career included spells as a researcher in the House of Commons and at the Institute of Education before she changed course to the health field, beginning with a management role in the third sector, at London Lighthouse, the centre for people with HIV/AIDS.  

After joining the Department of Health in 1990 as a direct entrant Grade 7, Una had a wide range of roles in both policy and delivery, including two years in private office and secondments to the Cabinet Office and the Department of Transport. She also worked in the NHS as Director of Change and Clinical Governance at University College London NHS Foundation Trust, one of London’s leading teaching hospitals. She was Director General of Strategy at DH and, from 2010 until 2016, the Department’s Permanent Secretary and Accounting Officer for a budget of over £120bn.

Una was a participant on the Civil Service High Potential Development Scheme (HPDS) and when DG and Permanent Secretary, led sessions on the HPDS and coached and mentored individual participants. Whilst Permanent Secretary, Una led the Civil Service Awards; she also chaired the Civil Service Talent Board helping to develop leadership and development programmes now within the Leadership Academy’s curriculum.

Una has specialist understanding of investigative and inquiry work. In the 1990’s she was the Secretary to the Bristol/Kennedy Public Inquiry into children’s heart surgery. Later at the department, she sponsored several major inquiries. In 2017-2018, Una is serving on the panel of a judicially chaired Public Inquiry in Northern Ireland, investigating the causes of a public sector spending scandal that led to the collapse of the power-sharing Executive.

Una first gained non-executive experience whilst in the Civil Service. She served on the Ministry of Defence Audit Committee and as a non-executive of the Government Legal service. Today, she is on the board of Macmillan Cancer, one of the UK’s leading charities and a governor of the University of Birmingham.

Education and Awards

• M.Sc, International Relations, London School of Economics
• Kennedy Scholar, Harvard University, School of Government
• B.A. Modern History, University of Oxford

Honorary Doctorates
Awarded in recognition of leadership and change management in health services: the Universities of Wolverhampton (2011); Coventry (2011) and the University of Birmingham (2015) 

Awards for public service
Queen’s New Year Honours 2011 – CB  
Queen’s Birthday Honours 2015 - DCB