Effective supervision in a variety of settings

The foundations of effective supervision practice: The supervisory relationship

Relationship-based practice is at the heart of work in social care, yet recently there has been a concern that a focus on tasks and compliance has reduced the value placed on this aspect of the work. [18, 19] The research underpinning this guide reaffirmed the importance of relationships within supervision and of developing an effective style of supervision, which is intimately bound up with the capacity of the supervisor to develop an effective relationship with their supervisee. Words used within the practice enquiry [2] to describe the components of good relationships were: openness, honesty and respect, including respecting the feelings of the worker.

The behaviour of the supervisor in relation to the practicalities of supervision will be an important element in defining the quality of the relationship. Effective relationships will most likely be underpinned by the following supervisory behaviour:

Supervisory relationships are based on openness, honesty and respect, and will partly be influenced by the ability of the supervisor to work effectively with emotions. This includes their capacity to engage with supervisees in exploring the meaning of feelings engendered by their work rather than simply facilitating them to ‘offload’. This requires supervisors to have a number of the features described in the literature on emotional intelligence. While there is an extensive literature on this subject, less has been written about its application within social care. Adapting Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence, Morrison [20] identified five significant interrelated elements relevant to social care practice:

Morrison argues that these elements are linked to five core skills that are fundamental within social care, namely:

Emotional intelligence is therefore important for supervisors and supervisees alike: for supervisees in the work they do with people who use services and for supervisors in modelling emotionally intelligent behaviour. Through this modelling supervisors will send important messages about the culture of the organisation, including permission to talk about the emotional impact of the work, and will develop supervisory relationships which will encourage supervisees to be the best they can be.

The following questions are adapted from original work by Tony Morrison [1] and are designed to assist supervisors in considering how they respond to emotion.

Understanding how you respond to emotions as a supervisor is important in relationship development because workers need secure responsive supervision, especially if they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

In addition, the development of an effective relationship will depend on how far the supervisor is perceived by the supervisee to meet their needs and it is important that there is a clear understanding by both parties of their role, responsibilities and the boundaries and limitations of their relationship. This understanding can be enhanced by the effective use of the supervision agreement or contract. What is good in a balanced and functioning relationship can become a force for dysfunction and destruction if the balance is lost.


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Available downloads:

  • 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