Effective supervision in a variety of settings

The foundations of effective supervision practice: Task assistance

The research [2] identified a valued component of supervision to be where the worker receives tangible work-related guidance. In all areas of life, where we are undertaking a job for the first few times, we may need very specific help and guidance to get it right, build confidence for our future practice, or, when undertaking complex tasks, need emotional support though sharing the load.

Task assistance allows the supervisor to provide direct support to the worker, to advise them on courses of action that might be taken, and to approve what they are doing where a decision is needed beyond that delegated to the worker.

For supervisees, whose priorities will be driven by the immediate pressures and demands of the work, the practical and emotional assistance given by supervisors will be crucial. Such assistance may include co-working with a person who uses services who has complex needs, helping the supervisee to prioritise their work, and assisting with new tasks that have not been undertaken by a worker before, such as preparing a report for court proceedings. In addition, the role of the supervisor in fulfilling the mediation function of supervision may include them liaising with external organisations, particularly where issues are in dispute, or providing mediation or advocacy services for the supervisee to gain access to systems or resources that may not be easily accessed by themselves.

Research has shown that supervisees value supervisors who have expertise in their field and are therefore able to use this in guiding them in their work. The challenge for supervisors in providing effective task assistance is therefore considering the following two questions.

Task assistance is also described within the research [3] as including advice or guidance, feedback, training and coaching. Here there are links to staff development – building the skills, knowledge and confidence of the worker to help them operate with more autonomy. However, from time to time the supervisor’s own anxiety about the quality or timeliness of the work may tempt them to ‘rescue’ the supervisee by taking over and completing tasks for them. This is likely to militate against staff development.

How supervisors engage with task assistance is therefore intimately bound up with how they promote staff development within the supervisory process.


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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