What does ‘good’ reflective supervision look like?


One of the most dynamic and positive elements of social work is the fact that we’re not in this alone. The social work community is a supportive network of practitioners who can lean on each other to develop good practice across the UK. Part of that reliance and collaboration is ensuring there are examples of good reflective supervision, so that professionals can learn from each other. Supervision is a critical process for social work, developing the structure of support for team members and co-workers. Practitioners are human beings, and so naturally need a level of guidance; after all, a service is only as good as the people who make it up. However, current practice within social work doesn’t always recognise the importance of good supervision; leaving it to become much more about case work and not looking at the professional as a whole.

Supervision involves making the time and developing the practical structure to give support to co-workers/staff.

Reflective & Effective Supervision

Supervision has many facets to it, requiring the supervisor to effectively manage their supervisee while also enabling the individual to develop their own approaches. The practitioner should be engaged with the organisation they work for, and effective supervision looks at more than just the cases they’re facing. The motivation to participate and grow will help them to approach their practice in a more positive and effective manner. If a manager can lead their team to feel more appreciated and supported as a complete individual, rather than just a cog within the overall service, it will have ripple on effects for their employee retention, satisfaction and effectiveness. Hence, it’s vital that reflective supervision considers the emotional triggers, responses and interpretations towards the situations that professionals encounter.

In order to go about this in a positive way, those in positions of leadership and responsibility need to recognise that it’s not just a process. Reflective supervision requires more than just creating a forum for reflective discussion, it’s about:

  1. A focus on relationships
  2. Creative methods to working
  3. Shared understanding of the what, why and how of reflection
  4. Consideration of outcomes of practice
  5. Discussions about evidence
  6. A focus on feedback
  7. Space to discuss feelings, thoughts, values and the impact of these on actions/practice.

It’s so valuable for managers to learn about how to supervise in an effective and reflective way, as positive leadership is the way to develop future generations of social workers and to foster a spirit of good practice. By making sure time is taken to explore a supervisee’s practice, and understand the factors which influence their practice responses, will allow teams to be constructed in more productive ways. Since, recognising the differences in emotions, assumptions and power relations will help to understand the practitioners as people.

Good reflective practice therefore needs to consider the wider context in which a social worker or care professional operates. These principles can be applied to supervision across multiple sectors; nevertheless, they are most prominent in social work. Given the nature of the work done in this sector and the vulnerability of the service users, practitioners need to feel supported and strengthened by their colleagues, line managers and supervisors. As a result, they can learn about their own practice and work on the correct areas so that overall, the service users benefit.

Objectives of Supervision

Within Social Work, it is generally accepted there are four main objectives to supervision (Morrison 2005):

  • Ensuring competent accountable practice
  • Encouraging continuing professional development
  • Offering personal support to practitioners
  • Engaging the individual practitioner within the organisation
  • These objectives are met through the main functions of supervision.

Four main functions to social work supervision

Managerial function – This is also referred to as the accountability, administrative or normative function. This is all about supervisors ensuring that the supervisee is competent in their practice and about supervision being used to monitor the quality of service provision.

Developmental function – This is also referred to as the educative or formative function. Supervisors sometimes misunderstand the developmental function and think that asking questions like ‘what training have you been on?’ or ‘what courses are you considering?’ means they have covered the developmental function. However, supervision should be developmental in itself – it should enable a practitioner’s learning by promoting adult learning processes and critical reflective practices.

Supervisors should encourage practitioners to reflect on what they have learnt from their practice within the supervision discussion.

Supportive function – This is also referred to as the restorative or pastoral function. Supervision needs to provide a supportive forum where the supervisee can discuss their concerns and explore their emotional responses to work.

Mediation function – This is also referred to as the negotiation function. This is the function of supervision which is least commonly written about. Many supervision policies don’t refer to this function. It is focused on engaging the worker with the organisation (Morrison, 2005) asserts that it’s about:

  • Negotiating and clarifying the team roles and responsibilities
  • Briefing management about resource deficits or implications
  • Allocating resources in the most efficient way
  • Representing supervisees needs to higher management
  • Consulting and briefing staff about organisational developments/information
  • Mediating or advocating between workers.

Responsibilities of the Supervisee

  • Prioritise supervision. Make it an essential part of your job role
  • A joint journey … this is about you! (or should be)
  • A chance to off load case responsibility and see guidance/support… remember, they are NOT your cases. They are the Teams
  • Focus on your future development
  • Identify areas of concerns/strengths within the setting

Responsibilities of the Supervisor

  • Maintain balance between reflection and accountability
  • Include workload considerations
  • Ensure that casework practice meets the practice standards
  • Ensure that safeguarding processes are being followed
  • Ensure issues arising from the case planning process are addressed
  • Ensure a person-centred approach to all casework discussions
  • Observe direct engagement on a planned basis at least once during each year
  • Record any case-related supervision notes appropriately.


One Stop Social has a range of resources on our website to help develop the practitioners in our community into the best collective of social workers across the country. We’re keen to ensure examples of good practice become more and more prominent, educating those new to practice about key techniques; and instructing established practitioners about the look of modern social work. If you have any resources which you think will positively contribute to this journey, do get in touch with our team.

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