Effective supervision in a variety of settings
The context for effective supervision: Leadership
Leadership in relation to supervision can be seen to have two interconnecting elements:
- leading the organisation in establishing an effective supervision culture
- leading practice, applying the skills of the individual supervisor.
Leading the organisation
The development of leadership skills has been extensively written about elsewhere and it is not the intention of this guide to attempt to summarise the leadership literature.
However, the National Skills Academy for Social Care’s leadership qualities framework might be a good starting point as it is the most current statement relating to leadership in the social care sector. It recognises that organisations consist of people and that leadership qualities are inherent in all roles throughout an organisation.
Strategic and operational leadership can ensure that the process of supervision is embedded in the organisation and will set the tone and behaviours to support it. It also has the power to put into operation many of the key recommendations made in this guide and ensure commitment. Organisations can use the knowledge acquired from supervision to plan for training, staffing needs, budget predictions, workforce planning and looking at future development.
Leadership at a strategic level can then be confident that what an organisation says it is delivering is matched in practice. The organisation will also wish to be compliant with regulatory requirements including a duty of care to employees generally, or specific requirements subject to inspection by bodies such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) or the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).
A person offering supervision should have all the capabilities needed to maintain this role or relationship successfully. This will allow them to speak with authority, both within their professional range and in their functional role on behalf of the organisation, and suggests that they will have the strength of character to carry out all of the supervisory tasks, including those that are more challenging – for example, those relating to performance, behaviours or emotional stress.
A key component of leadership in any environment is to be an exemplar to others in the workplace. If supervision is to be properly embedded in an organisation’s culture and practice, it will first be practised by its leaders.
This is a key element of leadership within a supervisory context and refers to the role that supervisors, utilising their skills and knowledge, play as arbiters of standards of practice.
In discussing the role of the supervisor as practice leader, Wonnacott  mapped the traits of an outstanding leader identified by the Work Foundation  to those of an outstanding supervisor within a social work setting. Using an adapted version of this framework you may wish to consider the following questions.
- How well do you understand the systems within your organisation that are likely to influence practice in the long term?
- How skilled are you at maintaining a focus on the values of your organisation through developing relationships with colleagues and people who use services?
- Do you use both formal and informal supervision to develop relationships with your supervisees?
- Do you use policies and procedures as a framework for good practice, encouraging flexibility and innovation in the best interests of people who use services?
- Do you value the opportunity provided by supervision to talk about practice?
- Do you value your supervisees’ ideas and encourage creativity?
- Do you provide an appropriate ‘buffer’ to organisational demands and assist your supervisees in maintaining a focus on good practice?
- Do you encourage a mutually supportive team environment and learning from each other?
- Is your relationship with your supervisees such that mistakes can be explored in a spirit of learning rather than blame?
- Are you able to manage your own anxieties and allow supervisees to learn from their mistakes?
- Do you access supervision for yourself, reflect on your own supervision style and consider the impact this has on your supervisees?
What is clear is that a thread running throughout is the capacity to work with emotions. This link between effective leadership and emotional intelligence is further explored in a guide for front-line managers developed for the State Government of Victoria, Australia. This document includes discussion of the interactive nature of leadership and the process of supervision through six emotionally intelligent leadership styles. It identifies good leaders as ‘emotionally resonant’ (able to read emotions and discuss uncomfortable feelings). Resources have previously been developed by SCIE - see Leading practice - a development programme for first-line managers.
All SCIE resources are free to download, however to access the following downloads you will need a free MySCIE account:
- Effective supervision in a variety of settings
- Service user and carer involvement in the supervision of health and social care workers: seminar report
- Practice enquiry into supervision in a variety of adult care settings where there are health and social care practitioners working together
- Narrative summary of the evidence review on supervision of social workers and social care workers in a range of settings including integrated settings