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  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:
- ensuring that formal supervision sessions take place in a conducive, quiet, interruption-free environment
- not cancelling or being late for supervision
- having structured plans for supervision sessions with built-in flexibility
- writing up supervision notes and making sure they are signed by both parties.
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  identified five significant interrelated elements relevant to social care practice:
- other awareness
- interpersonal skills
Morrison argues that these elements are linked to five core skills that are fundamental within social care, namely:
- Engagement with people.
- Capacity for accurate observation and recall. Recall about emotional events is reduced when we try to suppress emotion  and the ability to identify our own and others’ emotions accurately also helps us to spot false emotions in others.
- Assessment skills. People who use services will quickly become aware of workers who are not in tune with their emotions.
- Decision-making. Emotions are associated with a range of mental capacities that have a direct impact on judgement and decision-making  and help us to predict the future by imagining potential consequences for either ourselves or others. 
- Working with others. Positive emotion reduces inter-group hostility and discrimination, enables people to identify commonalities and makes it more likely that group members will treat other groups as members of their own. 
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  and are designed to assist supervisors in considering how they respond to emotion.
- How would your staff describe your emotional style? Are you hot, cool or balanced in your emotional responses?
- How good are you at noticing the emotional tone of the team?
- How good are you at recognising and acknowledging the daily hassles that staff experience?
- Are you proactive in providing emotional encouragement and support or do you tend to wait for staff to seek out your support?
- Which emotions do you find it more difficult to respond to: anger, sadness, fear, excitement, helplessness or anxiety?
- Which emotions do you find it easier to respond to?
- Does how you respond to emotions depend on who is involved? Are there factors relating to the social location of the individual, such as gender and age, that affect your responses?
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.
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