As practitioners, what qualities do you look out for and value in a manager? Below we’ve put a few ‘top tips’ that we hope will help assist managers in developing their skills and support for practitioners within the social work and care sectors.
If a staff member has asked you for help on a certain task and/or your opinion, be honest. Sounds simple, right? But you’d be surprised at how many managers try to ‘wing it’ or misinform their staff. Honesty really is the best policy… so lets practice in line with the correct social work values and ethics we’ve been taught.
The difference between being a good manager and an average one is that a good manager will be the first to admit that they don’t know everything. But, what they will do is help you find out the answer (as a shared journey). By being open about not being all knowing will break down barriers and show that you are human after all. This will help create a far better working relationship with your staff/practitioners.
One of the most common themes when highlighting the difference between a boss and a leader is that the latter is not afraid to get down and dirty in completing work with staff. Whereas the former is more than happy to sit back and ‘bark’ orders (usually to hide their own incompetence) even when there are staff shortages… A good leader will not be afraid to do as well as say.
As managers we can often become reliant on our most skilled and experienced practitioners to complete the majority of work. We often allocate and inundate them with the most complex cases and do this because we know that the work will get completed to a good standard. However, think about it, this isn’t good practice. In doing so, you are likely to increase staff burn due to them managing unworkable caseloads. It can also create feelings of resentment within a team, which can be toxic. So, make sure cases are evenly distributed between the teams. Yes, you may need to offer one practitioner more support, but this helps professional development and will strengthen the team and their practice.
To manage effectively, it is wrong to assume that you can communicate with all staff at the same level or way. If staff are to fully process information, communication must be tailored to their own individual needs. Remember learning styles when working with service users/customers? Well, the same applies here… Some learn best by doing and others by watching or following. As managers, you need to adapt to these variants and engage with your staff differently.
All too often managers only comment on staff work if it’s not of the expected level or standard. This can create an atmosphere of hostility and one that will be counter-productive. Whilst it sounds a bit cheesy, positivity really does breed positivity. So, the next time a practitioner does something well, tell them… It doesn’t hurt.
Sometimes it’s difficult as managers not to feel the stress of the job. Whilst this will always (to some extent) be a part of our role, it’s essential that your anxieties are not passed onto your practitioners. Yeah, we want to promote professional autonomy, but we need to do this in a supportive and ‘save’ environment. If we don’t safeguard staff from manager anxiety, this will increase the likelihood of panicked decision making; which will fall under defensive rather than defensible practice.