She will replace Catherine Johnstone, who announced her intention to leave the suicide-prevention charity in January, having been in post for more than six years.
Sutherland has been chief executive of Relate for three years. Before that she was executive director of services at the disability charity Scope, chief operating officer at the Alzheimer’s Society – where she also held the interim chief executive role for a year – and director of services at Rethink Mental Illness.
She will be taking on the role as Samaritans begins work to deliver its new strategy for 2015-2021, which was launched today.
Called Working Together to Reduce Suicide, the strategy will focus on improving the charity’s services, increasing its influence and reaching more people in need of support, including those most at risk and vulnerable groups.
Announcing her departure, Johnstone said she would have been prepared to stay at the charity for two more years, but had agreed with the board that it would be better to appoint someone else to see the six-year strategy through.
Jenni McCartney, chair of Samaritans, said that Sutherland had the leadership and passion needed to take the organisation forward.
"Her invaluable experience in both the public and voluntary sectors, including her work with volunteers, will bring both the experience and stability the organisation needs to provide the best possible service to everyone who needs us and ultimately deliver on our vital mission to reduce the number of suicides," she said.
Sutherland, who is qualified as a registered general nurse, has a background in the public and voluntary sectors in public health, mental health and in voluntary sector leadership spanning more than 30 years.
"My work to date has involved many of the key groups and causes of distress and crisis that Samaritans responds to on a daily basis," said Sutherland. "I am really looking forward to getting to know the organisation and, most importantly, all the people who make Samaritans what it is today so that I can play my part in the important work we have to do going forward to make the real difference needed."