We may wax lyrical about our founder and leader Matt Hughes, his vision for a modern social work community and how passionate he has made the whole One Stop Social team about promoting good practice; but one area where we haven’t yet picked his brain is the advice he can offer when managing social workers. So naturally, we’ve seized the chance now. While social work relies on strong individual knowledge, we are all never in this journey of facilitating change and the time will come where every practitioner will need to know a bit about what makes a good social work manager. After all, social work is completely different to the corporate world that is vastly represented in the media and press; making the managerial style totally different as well. You can’t expect the same principles you see in Mad Men, The Apprentice or Wolf of Wall Street to work in a field with such vulnerable people at the heart. (Side note, it’s probably best that *no-one* takes advice from Mad Men, The Apprentice or Wolf of Wall Street, but I digress….)
We got Matt to give us his thoughts, as a practitioner, about what makes a good social work manager and how to avoid classic mistakes that will earn you a bad reputation with your peers!
I’m a social worker, why do I need to learn about supervising people?
“Whatever level of social worker you are, you will be involved in the supervision of people. Whether you’re supervising your caseload of varying needs, or supervising staff with varying levels of experience and expertise; social work and supervision of others go hand in hand. So even if you have no intention to manage large teams in the future, understanding the nuances of management and supervision are key traits for any social worker I feel.”
What traits did your favourite manager have or actions did they take which made them stand out?
“However much I hate to play favourites, this one is easy! The best manager I had (hi Teresa!) always offered me excellent support and invested time with me to help develop my professional self. Committing this time to me showed a real sense of belief in my practice and helped develop my confidence greatly as I learnt. Teresa would offer me excellent opportunities to showcase and ‘fine tune’ my skills in practice, which was incredibly necessary, but there was something that I respected more; I could always count on her for support that was fair and most importantly, honest. Teresa would tell me if I did something well and if I could’ve improved my practice. This was invaluable to me and I have always tried to emulate her style of management in my practice. Having someone who will point out your areas of improvement will always help you strive to better yourself, but Teresa made sure to do it in a way that didn’t disengage me or wreck my self-esteem.”
What are the main mistakes social work managers make?
“Thinking that supervision is just case management. Yes, case management is an essential part of good social work management, but remember, this is only one aspect of the supervision process. Managers must remember the importance and offer equal weighing to the supportive, developmental and mediation functions of the supervision process. Staff need to feel they are able to reflect and critically analyse their work in a safe environment. If they are constantly under the impression their views are not important and all that matters are case outcomes, they will not develop into well-rounded practitioners. A key part of growth is reflection, and we see on a regular basis in social work how it can shape a person’s practice.
Also, given the very complex nature of work social workers undertake, the supportive element cannot be underestimated; don’t just find faults with their work, balance it with praise and highlight strengths in their practice. Sometimes supervisors forget to recognise the good, but it can make all the difference to the people you’re managing!”
Is there a theory or guideline you think can help a social work manager develop good techniques?
“I recommend looking at the 4x4x4 supervision model by Tony Morrision, I think it gives a good outlook on the ways you can manage people without becoming tyrannical or overbearing. But I’m always on the hunt for new methods and I make sure to check in with my team and any students I supervise about how I could improve as a manager. That’s the main guideline I follow!”
1 piece of advice you’d offer new supervisors/managers?
“Be a leader not a boss. A manager that leads from the front will be far more respected and valued than someone who just ‘barks’ orders at staff. Offer support and don’t forget to work in partnership with colleagues. I personally believe that people don’t leave organisations, they leave managers.”
While you're here...
We’ve built on Matt’s vision for a modern social work community where tools for good practice are shared and celebrated to bring together practitioners from across the UK in defence of this profession we are so passionate about. We want you to join our collective and voice your opinions about how social work can be improved, what should remain the same and what you really value from your work. Modern social work is built on the ideas and drive of front-line practitioners, and we’re here to ensure your profession is defined by you.