Leading strength-based practice: A model of leadership for European social care?s
Featured article -
14 June 2022
By Ewan King, SCIE Deputy Chief Executive and Dr Robin Miller, Professor of Collaborative Learning in Social Care at the University of Birmingham
There has been a lot going on in social care in England in recent months – a new Adult Social Care White Paper, a report on the future of children’s social care, a new White Paper on integrated health and social care. You could be forgiven for forgetting there is a wider world out there.
That is why it was so refreshing to have the opportunity to talk to leaders in other European Countries, which we were lucky enough to be able to do at the European Social Network conference in Hamburg last week.
The topic we spoke about was leadership of strengths-based practice – a presentation of the learning from the University of Birmingham and the Social Care Institute for Excellence’s joint leadership programme, that is now entering its second year. The Leading Strengths Based Practice aims to support practice leaders to demonstrate leadership of strengths-based practice through engaging with academic insights, critically reflecting on their own leadership, and developing a community of practice with their peers.
'What is strong and positive about a person?'
In front of an audience of over 80 leaders of social care services from across Europe, the first thing we worried about was whether the concept of strengths-based practice would actually mean anything to most in the room. We were wrong about this, as those in attendance, many of whom were social workers, spoke eloquently about being strengths-based practice – an orientation of practice to what is strong and positive about a person, rather than simply focusing on their problems or needs - and how this was the essence of good social care.
The topic of leadership of strengths-based practice also resonated with participants. In our presentation, we shared insights on what made a good strengths based leader – a commitment to partnership working, a compassionate approach to working with colleagues, an ability to work collaboratively with people who draw on care (what we call co-production), and affinity towards giving practitioners to space and support to be creative and innovative; all of which the audience felt were core principles of good leadership in unique contexts in which they worked.
A view from Denmark
One participant, for instance, a senior leader of adult social care in Denmark who was currently leading a pilot which involved all the key services working together in self-managing teams in a deprived part of the city of Aarhus, spoke about how important it was for leader in this context to forget about their own organisations, and work for the common good, building on the strengths of the local community. Another participant, this time from Hamburg, spoke about the need for leaders to regularly explore and share what strengths they have with each other as part of building a shared approach.
But when we went into the detail about the challenges of strengths-based practice, our colleagues were not less inhibited as we have become in England. A colleague from Portugal spoke about how difficult it was to be an effective leader when resources and time were so constrained. Another colleague from Sweden, said that it was almost impossible to be an effective leader when you didn’t have buy in right across the system – from the top of government down to the local voluntary organisations you work with to make change happen.
Although the challenge participants spoke about the lack of resources, the growing pressure on services the difficulty of finding good people to work with – were all very real, and to those of working England, very familiar – the general sense in the room was one of optimism, that good leadership can overcome the challenges we face. That is why in our collective endeavour to improve social care for those we work with and support, we must never lose sight of the importance of leadership, and work with colleagues from across the sector – and Europe for that matter – to continue to develop our skills and build our capabilities as leaders.