Managing practice

Supervision and team leadership - Effective supervision

Managers are meant to supervise: but what does this involve for the first-line manager and what skills do you need to undertake supervision of staff? 'Supervision' has fallen into disrepute in recent years, for a number of reasons: It has acquired a bad reputation as a semi-private activity, focused on the individual supervisee's needs and not on the outcomes for the service user. Conversely, supervision has become procedurally driven, checking compliance rather than positively challenging accepted custom and practice. The relationship between practitioner and supervisor is therefore likely to be a prescriptive one, as managers oversee compliance with procedural and fiscal requirements.

Not least, first line managers have a lot to do and complex and disputed activities like supervision are likely to be left out of the manager's job.

The first line manager is responsible for the standard of practice within the team: some of the best characteristics of supervision are vital to this management of practice. These include an understanding that effective practice requires a sense both of disengagement and reflection. This creates the opportunity to question practice and custom which is vital to the development and support of effective social work and social care services. Workers need a finely tuned sense of professional anxiety to be able to reflect on their feelings and use them in understanding their work in the relationships they form with service users and significant others. Discussion of this with an informed third party is more than a check on effective performance. It is an essential dimension of effective practice itself. The Harkness Review: Changing the focus of social work supervision: effects on client satisfaction and generalised contentment. This looks at the relationship between supervision and client well-being. For further information download a resume of this article.

If you want to read more about the research and development work NISW has undertaken on this topic, see Managing Practice: supervision and the organisation.

What support can the organisation provide?

Is there a supervision policy ? If your organisation has a supervision policy, it means you are expected and sanctioned to undertake this aspect of staff development. You are guided as to how to do so, and you have a basis for negotiating the means to do so. The Froggett review: Sustaining tensions in practice supervision. This study looks at the implementation of a supervision policy Download a resume of this book.

NISW's survey of supervision policies identified a number of common elements:

Is there supervision guidance? Policy tells you why to do it, but guidance can help you how to do it.

Are you offered skills training and mentoring as a supervisor? This may be available from a variety of sources and you may get the most effective skills development from a combination of them. It would not be useful to see them as substitutes for each other.

Skills development for professional supervision. These are likely to be programmes specially commissioned within or by your social care agency. If these are not available, the CCETSW practice teacher award will cover much of the ground, although not within the context of your dual role as line-manager as well as supervisor. The Hughes, Lynette & Pengelly resume: Staff supervision in a turbulent environment: managing process and task in front-line services: Considers the current environments in which practice must be managed. Download a resume of this book.

'Managing people' skills development. In local Government or NHS these may be provided corporately, or have a specially adapted component to cover social care.

Supervisors' group: if your organisation does not provide one, you can set this up yourself. Look at Team Manager Support.

The supervision you receive: this should conform to the same principles as the supervision you provide and should include the quality of your supervisory practice. Managers supervising managers run the risk of proceduralising the content of supervision even more than practitioner supervision does. Appropriate supervision may not be available to you within your agency's usual arrangements. You or your line manager can arrange additional or alternative supervision/consultation for you, often from another member of the agency. Sometimes the agency is willing to pay for an external supervisor, if you present a case for funding. You may decide that you will provide your own external supervisor.

What do you do if any or all of these are missing? You should check practice in other parts of the agency: this may be a local problem that the agency can bring into line with its expectations. Some you can get for yourself relatively easily. Spurs to organisational change include Investors in People, quality assurance models such as the (Business) Excellence Model. These may often be invoked at corporate level in local government. Within social care agencies, central Government drivers include Quality Protects or the White Paper 'Modernising Social Services'. Look at the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) website for more information about workforce planning.