This guide is aimed at those of you with responsibility for managing the collective practice and service delivery in any social care setting. This will give you a different job title and a different place on the organisational chart in different organisations. The guide supposes that this responsibility means that you may have more in common with some colleagues than titles and position suggests: the information and knowledge you are looking for may be in some unexpected places. For example, a Child Protection team manager interested in managing the collective practice of your team, may find the literature about, say, managing day care services for adults with learning difficulties extremely pertinent. This guide aims to introduce first-line managers to literature and thinking outside their own professional setting, as well as within it.
First-line managers are the keystone of any social services organisation. Their quality and competence make a significant difference to its performance. They need to take a balanced approach to their work. Without this they can add to the separation that can occur within an organisation and the poor or non-existent collaboration with others.
- They manage the primary tasks and activities of the organisation.
- They have a key role in determining whether standards of practice are consistently maintained.
- They support staff engaged in complex, personally demanding practice and ensure that staff are continually developed in knowledge based practice. (Denise Platt, Chief Inspector SSI)
First line managers are in a special position:
- They have made the first step into management and is a major transition from the role of a direct practitioner.
- They look in two directions at once, combining a daily contact with direct practice and a contribution to the strategic work of the wider organisation.
- They need to integrate the skills of strategic management with the knowledge and judgement of an expert practitioner
- They operate in a highly charged environment, managing a staff group in daily contact with the distress and anxieties of users and carers.
- Although the post is often the first experience of managing the collective effort of a team as well as individuals' performance, it can be the transition least supported by formal training or professional development
A first-line manager has to:
- tell staff what to is expected of them and where their job fits into the overall picture
- lead by example and give their staff honest, constructive feedback
- manage their staff through open and honest application of agreed standards
- plan and manage resources to make sure jobs are stretching and reasonably loaded
- provide the wider organisation with the management information it depends on to be effective
- support their staff in developing skills they need-both for their current job and their future career (based on ref SSI)
This lists the main areas of skill and knowledge identified through NISW's research and development work on the management of practice ( download the Management of Practice Expertise project report - PDF file), our observations and confirmed through discussions with first-line managers and their managers. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list of first-line manager competencies. It focuses on areas that managers need to develop, maintain and be supported in, in order to develop and sustain good practice in social work and social services delivery.
Clarifying the task. Expanding and maintaining knowledge of methods of practice and service delivery includes:
- how the job is being done by others
- evidence supporting different approaches to practice
- feedback from all service users, clients and other key players
Use of management information on workload and deployment of resources, for example:
- referrals: numbers - sources- patterns
- nature and incidence of local social problems
- staff resources
- devolved budgets
- other team resources
- identification of local resources
- agencies and voluntary organisations
Supervision skills and strategies including:
- professional consultation
- monitoring performance
- staff support
Managing change and innovation including:
- change agent skills and knowledge
- service development
- practice innovation
- surviving re-re-reorganisation
Managing collaboration and partnerships including:
- work with other agencies, commissioning/contracting services
- team working, dovetailing services and interventions with others
- work with service user groups, constantly reviewing the task and way that it is performed.
Developing courage and integrity through:
- giving usable feedback to staff on their actions and behaviour to improve their performance
- seeking and receiving feedback from staff, collaborating agencies, and service users to improve the effectiveness of the team and the first-line manager's own management performance
- acting in counter intuitive ways when working with people.
Managers and practitioners have to engage with problems involving confusion, anxiety and personal pain. This engagement is crucial for sustaining the effectiveness of the team. Team members are expected to work with people who have complex problems; who are in major crisis and suffering loss or deprivation, and at a time when they are experiencing, or trying to produce major changes in their lives. It means the first-line manager has to be able to deal with the day to day problems involved in the normal stresses and strains of being part of the organisation