PURPOSE: While there has been substantial discussion about the potential for clinical leadership in improving quality and safety in healthcare, there has been little robust study. The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a qualitative study with clinicians and clinician managers to gather opinions on the appropriate content of an educational initiative being planned to improve clinical leadership in quality and safety among medical, nursing and allied health professionals working in primary, community and secondary care. DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH: In total, 28 clinicians and clinician managers throughout the state of Victoria, Australia, participated in focus groups to provide advice on the development of a clinical leadership program in quality and safety. An inductive, thematic analysis was completed to enable the themes to emerge from the data. FINDINGS: Overwhelmingly the participants conceptualised clinical leadership in relation to organisational factors. Only four individual factors, comprising emotional intelligence, resilience, self-awareness and understanding of other clinical disciplines, were identified as being important for clinical leaders. Conversely seven organisational factors, comprising role clarity and accountability, security and sustainability for clinical leaders, selective recruitment into clinical leadership positions, teamwork and decentralised decision making, training, information sharing, and transformational leadership, were seen as essential, but the participants indicated they were rarely addressed. The human resource management literature includes these seven components, with contingent reward, reduced status distinctions and measurement of management practices, as the essential organisational underpinnings of high performance work systems. PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS: The results of this study propose that clinical leadership is an organisational property, suggesting that capability frameworks and educational programs for clinical leadership need a broader organisation focus. ORIGINALITY/VALUE: The paper makes clear that clinical leadership was not perceived to be about vesting leadership skills in individuals, but about ensuring health care organisations were equipped to conceptualise and support a model of distributive leadership.